Disability Influences a Trillion Dollars in Disposable Income?

Disability influences a trillion Dollars in Disposable Income?6 min read

Ruh Global Communications Uncategorized


David Pérez Rueda is the Chief Global Strategist of Ruh Global Communications

By David Pérez Rueda

Every time you find an article explaining why brands and corporations should be tapping into the market of people with disabilities (PWD) you encounter the argument that this market influences over a trillion dollars in disposable income. I know the number is shocking, but I am going to explain where this money is coming from and why this market should be seized by many corporations around the world.

First, we need to understand what Disposable Income means; it is the name given to the amount of money that households have available for spending and saving after taxes have been accounted for.  In fact, it is one of the most common economic indicators used to gauge the overall state of the economy.  So, this means that the trillion dollars that everyone is talking about are what PWD and their families have available to spend.  However, where is this number coming from?

To understand where the trillion dollars are coming from, we must comprehend the global demographics of disability.  In 2011, the World Bank and the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) published a document titled “Global Report on Disability.”  In that report, they wrote that “it is estimated that more than 1 billion people live with some type of disability; that means around 15% of the world’s total population.”[1] They based this data on the many surveys that the WHO carried out to understand the situation of health on a global scale. This number keeps growing because people are getting older and there is an increase in chronic health problem associated with disabilities.

A map of China made by People.

People Forming the map of China. Source: FutureTimeline.net

What this means is that the numbers estimated by the World Bank and the United Nations World Health Organization have grown considerably, from 1 billion in 2011 to 1.3 billion in 2016.  Thus, nearly one out of every five individuals in the world has a disability.  This translates to a market that can only be compared in size to the total population of China.

With this size of population living with disabilities, the fact that we are talking about trillions of dollars in disposable income should not come as a surprise, especially when you take into consideration that a significant part of the growing population affected by age-related impairments are the demographic cohort born between the years 1946 and 1964 defined as the wealthiest, most active, and most physically fit generation up to the era in which they arrived, otherwise known as Baby Boomers. This side note is essential to us because according to Accenture [2], Baby Boomers control on their own $30 Trillion dollars just in the United states.

Graphic comparing the size of trillion dollars in cash.

Scale of a Trillion Dollars in Cash.

According to the United States Department of Labor, the disability market is the third largest market segment in the United States[3].  By simply understanding the demographic numbers, you can start to see the reason behind that declaration.  Historically, PWD has had on average a lower income than their peers without disabilities.  Considering the average disposable income in the USA is $41 071 a year, and that in the countries that are part of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is $29 016[4] a year. It is no surprise that even with their income disparity PWD globally influence a market that surpasses the Trillion Dollar mark and we could be talking in the coming years of tens of trillions of dollars.

However, to this disposable income you have to add a critical value, the Friends and Family demographic. It consists of a huge group of people worldwide that have an innate reason to understand disability and its impact on those with whom they have emotional and personal connections. Friends and Family have witnessed first hand the challenges that PWD face when interacting with services and products on a daily basis. Studies that show that this group functions like evangelists “ready to act and preach to others about the value inherent in PWD.”

All this data begs the question why aren´t more corporations tapping into the vast potential of this market. I believe it has to do with old paradigms about disability and accessibility that are still present. Archaic beliefs and prejudices constitute barriers to education employment, health care, and social participation for PWD.  They are faced with detrimental attitudes their whole lives.

Employers tend to believe that PWD are less productive than their non-disabled counterparts.  Ignorance about inclusion and accessibility limit the company’s perspective, which inevitably translates into a thought that everything that can be done to guarantee access and opportunity for PWD must be done as a charitable service and not as a business plan.

Of course, as awareness grows, more corporations are starting to see this market not as isolation from the mainstream but as part of the broader consumer market. They are starting to realize that innovations derived from helping PWD improve the experience for all.  Simply by developing products based on the seven principles of Universal Design, companies can bring change that helps the ease of access for all.  An excellent example of this is a physical space that includes ramps and elevators are exactly as useful for a wheelchair user as it is for a mother with her baby in a stroller.  Another example is an accessible design for a website or an app, guaranteeing that interacting with it and doing what you want is intuitive, improves user experience overall.

Infographic of the 7 Principles of Universal Design

Infographic of the 7 Principles of Universal Design. Source: www.interaction-design.org


The disability market is the biggest untapped market in history.  It is one of the greatest opportunities for corporations as it is not only a market that can be seized to sell products.  It is also a market segment with fantastic human capital that can be captured with just a few tweaks in the environment that will benefit all employees in ways that companies cannot start to imagine.  This market segment gives them a fast return on investment and, at the same time, they are engaging with a sizable market that is quickly engaged at an emotional level.

The only way that CEOs can start to understand how they can access this market is through education, information, and raising awareness within the company to create plans that integrate at a core level the importance of this market as both corporate social responsibility and good business practices.

[1] http://www.who.int/disabilities/world_report/2011/en/

[2] http://www.cnbc.com/2014/07/22/great-wealth-transfer-will-be-30-trillionyes-thats-trillion-with-a-t.html

[3] https://www.dol.gov/odep/BusinessSense/2009/bsense0509.htm

[4] http://www.oecdbetterlifeindex.org/countries/united-states/


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