W. C. Duke Associates: the dot com for disability etiquette

woman in wheelchair among paper flowers

The Disability Market: Large, Loyal, and Lucrative







People With Disabilities Are Next Consumer Niche

by Joshua Harris Praeger



It's a brand-new term that describes what's behind a dawning realization in business: People with disabilities shouldn't be viewed as charity cases or regulatory burdens, but rather as profitable marketing targets. Now, mainstream companies, from financial services to cell-phone makers, are going beyond what's mandated by law and rapidly tailoring products to attract them.


More companies are raising their profiles among people with disabilities. Johnson & Johnson sponsored a few sessions at the annual convention of the Society for Disability Studies. The company launched a unit that will produce and market products for people with disabilities. Johnson & Johnson has invested more than $100 million in the company, whose first product is the IBOT transporter, an all-terrain wheelchair.


Indeed, handicapitalism (a term that Johnnie Tuitel, a lecturer with a disability, is seeking to trademark) has nothing to do with regulatory change or the landmark Americans With Disabilities Act, passed in 1990. That law, which mandated that companies treat people with disabilities in an evenhanded way And make "reasonable accommodations," prompted companies to install wheelchair ramps for workers and hire interpreters for deaf employees, among other things.


Other advocates for the disability community say they prefer products and services to be spurred by profit potential, not by compliance. And targeting people with disabilities for purely altruistic reasons "isn't going to get the return on investment," says Cheryl Duke, president of W.C. Duke Associates Inc., a disability-consulting firm in Woodford, Va. "If you do it because it's a moneymaking project, it will continue."