New research on what disabled consumers choose to buy and why

By Christine Hemphill | 7th July 2022

Open Inclusion are delighted to have had the opportunity to present research that we conducted on consumer experiences for the Business Disability Forum sponsored by Microsoft at the BDF Annual Conference, aptly themed around “Are You Being Served?” This hybrid conference was held in person in London and online on the 29th June 2022. The rich set of disability-inclusive consumer research, grounded in the experiences of individuals with a wide range of disabilities, access needs and preferences across the UK, is now available for you to access, read, consider, or even better, act on!

Fresh new inclusive consumer research

The research focussed on the consumer decision-making process – how people consider and decide where, with who, and what to buy. Industry categories were chosen that had very different characteristics from each other to understand a really wide range of consumer experiences, but all are in sectors where there is significant consumer choice.

The insights we have shared in the reports and at the conference were informed by qualitative expert interviews, a pan-disability survey, and focus groups and backed quantitively by a nationally representative omnibus of 1,000 people. It is now available for anyone to delve into in detail.

There is an overall report detailing major trends that were relevant across all consumer sectors. The experience elements we covered include consumer communications, the purchasing process, product design, and sales service. The report has been broken into some specific areas of interest: outlining the methodology, sharing some statistics, noting barriers to buying, inclusive advertising, communications, customer service, and discussing disability needs, all of which impact disabled customers’ confidence in business positively or negatively depending on how well brands meet individuals’ needs.

There are also seven industry sector-specific reports that cover,

Please do download those that are of interest to you, have a read and if you find them valuable please share them with others who may do also.

You can also watch the session that was recorded at the conference where Bela Gor, Head of Legal and Content at BDF, and Christine Hemphill, Managing Director of Open Inclusion discuss the report. They share some of the more insightful stories that we heard through the research in focus groups, 1:1 interviews or from open questions in the survey responses. They also summarise some of the key insights.  The specific segment about the report starts at 49:05 and runs to 1:18:00.

Bela Gor and Christine Hemphill are chatting to each other at the BDF conference. Captions are across the bottom and a sign language interpreter on the right of them.

Bela Gor (BDF) and Christine Hemphill (Open Inclusion) at the BDF “Are You Being Served” Customer Inclusion Conference

Top takeaways for brands

Here are the top takeaways consumer-facing organisations can practically progress to more consistently attract disabled customers:

  • Consider and understand your customers’ varying needs: Learn how customers differ and how those differences impact the experiences and outcomes that individuals may have with your brand. Ensure you have ongoing inclusive customer listening options. We cannot know the right answer if we are not asking the right question of the right community to start with. Listen to disabled customers with a wide variety of needs, contexts and experiences.
  • Design inclusively: Redesign the elements of your products, services or environments that may exclude or negatively impact the experience that you provide today as a brand to your customers with additional needs.
  • Provide choice: There is no easy one size fits all. Universal design is more of a myth than a reality. Adaptive design allows people to select between options, empowering consumer choice. Provide alternatives in your products and services, your customer communication options, and channels available. This allows people to self-select those options that will best support their needs and preferences, providing them with the greatest value and minimizing friction or exclusion.
  • Communicate inclusively: Provide information that is relevant to disabled customers. Tell people what elements of the products or services support additional needs. Signpost inclusive or adaptive elements and share these also with front-line staff. Ensure communication is delivered in ways that are accessible. Layer information with good navigation or service support to allow people to find what they want and need smoothly without being overwhelmed with irrelevant details.
  • Empower adaptable and inclusive customer service: Hire, train, support, and empower front-line staff who are considerate and know that they are expected to provide great customer experiences, including for disabled customers. Ensure they know what that means when supporting different customers’ needs in the context of your brand. Hiring staff with personal experiences of disability is a very powerful way to build this knowledge and understanding. Provide staff with the flexibility to help customers around product or service barriers that may still exist. Service staff can often be the safety net that helps protect brand experiences until you can improve the underlying challenges.

Some interesting data

For those who love evidencing actions with data, here are a few key statistics from the reports to get you curious to go looking for more. Of the +240 customers with a wide range of lived experiences of disability and other personal characteristics and contexts who completed the detailed survey,

  • 65% felt that they were limited as consumers by inaccessible products and services
  • 60% felt they couldn’t find the information they needed or wanted to make consumer decisions
  • 54% found information but it was inaccessible to them

Although over 3 in 4 people surveyed felt that there was still a long way to go to ensure products and services were accessible to all, 2 in 3 felt that business was increasingly recognising the importance of disabled consumers and over half had noticed a positive change in how they were being treated.

What can I do as a consumer brand?

There is good news here and some excellent practical examples of leading organizations making it easier for disabled customers to find, assess, and purchase products or services with confidence. There is also a wealth of specific ideas from the community as to where more could be done to make it easier for disabled people to find what they are looking for, buy it, and know that they will get what they paid for.

Read it and consider how you can improve how your brand support customers with a wide range of lived experiences of disability to spend their money with you and get what they paid for.

We’re going the right direction! There is a sense of positive change from the disability community as organisations realize the value of this massive segment and start to more effectively support diverse needs of their consumers in their offerings. Let’s accelerate the momentum – there is still plenty of work to be done, experiences to improve and value to be gained on both sides.

What is your disability-inclusive consumer experience?

We would love to hear from you if you have any questions or comments on the reports and their findings. How do the insights resonate with you given your experiences, either as a disabled consumer or as a provider of consumer products or services? Please email us at contact@openinclusion.com.