I’ve been disqualifying people for years as part of my job as a researcher, and so have you. My “aha” moment came after a respondent I profiled was kicked out of a research project. Ariel was 36, female, mother of two, head of household, California resident, and gig worker. She “checked all the boxes”.
But Ariel was born deaf.
Ariel was kicked out due to a quality check based on audio from a pilot sitcom video. Closed captioning was not enabled by default and there was no replay or back button to watch again with subtitles. She lost 15 minutes of her time, making her late to pick up her children from school. That night I chatted with her for hours about what her experience has been like in life and in surveys.
Ableism in the market research industry
I knew at that moment that the market research industry needed to change. While I don’t likely need to make the case that ensuring online surveys, focus groups, and one-on-one interviews should not penalize or exclude people with disabilities, the reality is that we almost always do.
That’s because the people crafting the surveys are usually not disabled. Indeed, only 19.1 percent of people with a disability have any form of employment, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. I can pretty much guarantee you they’re not on your company Slack channel providing critical feedback on survey question types, font sizes, and aspect ratios.
Because we don’t have people with disabilities in mind when we create research plans, we inadvertently exclude them from research. So what?
People with a disability aren’t a significant portion of the market, right? Wrong.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 61 million Americans have some form of disability. That’s about one in four. If you’re involved in market research, branding, advertising, and communications and you’re not tailoring your content, experiences, websites, surveys, and outreach to this group, your research is disqualifying because it’s missing the opinions and insights from 25 percent of Americans.
People with disabilities don’t carry any economic weight, right? Wrong.
According to the American Institute for Research (AIR), Americans with disabilities spend about $490 billion per year. But, the AIR report also notes: “People with disabilities are not a solitary market; they are surrounded by family members and friends who also recognize the value in products and services that accommodate all people in society”. Thus, omitting people with disabilities – and their support network – not only damages the integrity of your research, but it also passes over a market segment that could become loyal and profitable customers.
People are either fully disabled or they’re not, right? Wrong.
Take blindness. Not everyone with a sight disability is blind. That’s why the term “visually impaired” exists. Don’t take my word for it, you can experience different forms of vision loss with this handy simulator from Lighthouse of Fort Worth. Do the simulation and ask yourself – would my last survey have been readable by someone with a visual impairment? What about my website?
Tips for inclusive market research
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
Luckily for us in market research, there is a growing number of tools to help make information and experiences more accessible. Here are just a few:
Of course, there’s no substitute to involving people with disabilities on your design, marketing, and communications teams. You might also suggest/require your survey provider to ensure there are people with disabilities represented on panels, focus groups, etc. I’ve found that products or services made without involving Americans with disabilities in the initial stages have exponentially larger economic and social costs.
As the poet Maya Angelou once said: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
Now we know better, let’s do better.