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Unlock the power of the purple pound: why improving accessibility is a commercial decision

Aaron Roper

One in five people in the UK has an accessibility need or is living with a disability – that’s an audience of 14.1 million. What’s more, 52% of people say they prefer to spend money with businesses that are accessible to their friends and family – regardless of accessibility needs*. Is your brand meeting these needs? If not, you’re missing out.

The collective spending power of disabled households was estimated at £249 billion in 2020 and is expected to rise year on year – so it’s surprising that so many businesses are not taking advantage of the commercial opportunity. All the more so when you consider that 71% of people look unfavourably on any business that chooses not to accommodate those with accessibility needs.

The UK’s infrastructure is built for non-disabled people. The negative impact of this is far-reaching given the variety of accessibility needs that so many live with – from mobility to vision, hearing, metabolic, dexterity and cognitive. UK business as a whole should be doing more to support those facing limited choices, additional expense and exclusion, but too many focus on compliance and doing the minimum rather than the commercial benefit this audience can bring. If closing the transport accessibility gap alone could deliver benefits of £72.4 billion to the UK each year, imagine what else is possible.  

Think commercial, not compliance

It’s vitally important to meet accessibility regulations and follow compliance guidelines – that’s a given. But treating it as a box-ticking exercise is missing a trick. Improving accessibility allows you to maximise your offer, as well as maximising benefits to your bottom line.  

While many may view those with accessibility needs as a separate segment, they actually encompass a wide audience – 1 in 5 people in the UK, and that’s before you include friends and family of those with accessibility needs. What’s more, only 3% of people would still think positively about a business that was unable to safely and easily accommodate somebody they know. It’s therefore abundantly clear that saying your business is accessible is not enough. You actually have to demonstrate it.

The brands and organisations already doing this well exhibit a variety of improvements that can be made. From tangible changes to products – like Proctor & Gamble introducing inclusive bottle design to help those with low to no vision – to improving access to services, like Japan’s investment in disability access to its public transport system. In addition, Nationwide has distinguished its brand from competitors by keeping branches open to better serve those who need more assistance with banking.

While businesses can model these examples, the message is clear – the changes you could make will be unique to your business and audience. Knowing where or how to make these improvements is often the biggest challenge, so where do you start? We suggest assessing your current setup in order to understand where you’re supporting access, where you’re preventing it, and where the opportunity lies. 

Find the right partner

Do you really know what it’s like for people who have accessibility needs to interact and do business with you? This is the insight you need to inform the changes you make – otherwise you may lose out on revenue by letting these people down, plus their friends and family. Moreover, this research needs to be carried out among this audience, and by those with experience of working with people who have accessibility needs. It’s therefore vital that, as a first step, you partner with an agency or organisation with specific and trusted capability in this area.

Take Yonder as an example. We partner with multiple disability bodies and agencies who help us easily and safely reach individuals with accessibility needs, as well as their wider social networks. We pair this capability with our customer-driven approach to help clients get the information they need in the right way in order to inform their decisions. These insights are often eye opening and can lead to significant commercial value. It isn’t as simple as asking somebody what they want – because your customers won’t always have the answers.

This is how we helped one of the UK’s leading transport firms to understand how they can better meet the needs of travellers with accessibility needs. We worked with the Research Institute for Disabled Consumers (RIDC) to gather insights from customers, which we used to inform strategies to improve station environment and customer experience, such as installing digital maps of managed stations to help the blind and partially sighted navigate the network. By working with the right partner who can support your brand, you can turn insight into commercial action while demonstrating the inclusivity of your business.

With 51% of people saying they would travel further to enjoy restaurants, cinemas, shopping centres or businesses that are accessible to all their family and friends, doing the bare minimum really doesn’t make sense anymore. Investing in accessibility means investing in your brand. It could even mean defining your brand in ways that give you the market advantage, both now and in the future.

*Yonder interviewed a nationally representative sample of 2089 GB adults aged 18+ online between 10th-12th Jan 2024. Find out more about our omnibus polling here.

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