Defining the Disability Economy (Part I)

Through numerous articles, Mindset matters referred to the term disability economics to represent a broader view of change within the experience of disability in the digital landscape. Yet it is not just an economic game, but a seismic shift within the intersectionality of business and culture that is redefining the very definition of disability itself and highlighting new power dynamics that will reshape our perceptions in the years to come. However, before taking this next leap forward, it is important to take a moment to offer a framework that articulates a more comprehensive understanding of disability economics in order to have greater awareness for more effective engagement.

To understand the present and future of disability economics, it is important to appreciate its past. We don’t have to look much further than the end of World War II when veterans returned home from the theater of war, many were newly disabled and faced the challenges of trying to navigate their surroundings. New companies were beginning to spring up to meet the needs of these disabled veterans focusing on EMRs or durable medical equipment. These companies have focused on many areas including wheelchairs, mobility devices including walkers, canes, crutches, bath safety and a whole host of everyday life products. It was one of the first forays into actively engaging the disability community as direct consumers and exploring real needs in everyday life.

As time moved forward into a post-World War II era from the 1960s to the 1990s, there was a wave of political and social change that provided fertile ground for the birth of a global movement for people’s rights. disabilities illustrated by the saying “Nothing about us”. , Without us!” It was this shift that began to give way to a new understanding of the disability community and clarity of needs that became the building blocks of the modern disability economy.

As the 20th century morphed into the 21st, the amplification of disability culture and the push for a more accessible world was not just part of the fabric of political discourse, but key to this growth of the disability economy. Simultaneously, there has been a push towards bringing together the business case for disability as a central aspect of business practice, enabling increased readiness for this new cultural shift. As these voices grow louder, interspersed with the need for companies to embrace greater diversity, as well as the role of ESG investing, we are seeing changes begin to take shape. There is a growing recognition that disability economics in its broadest terms makes sense and can in fact add value not just to day-to-day business practices, but to society as a whole.

This series will provide context and a deeper dive into the importance and significance of this growing disability economy while highlighting the fact that we have only scratched the surface of the value it can have in various business sectors. Disability economics is as much about smart business as it is about culture. Through this series, we will delve into the very power of disability economics as it assigns new strategies to growth areas for investors while rethinking the future of work, designing smart cities, its role in fields ranging from architecture, design, technology, and clothing adapted for travel, and much more.

We are at an inflection point where the growth of the disability economy must be seen as an imperative for business success in the 21st century. Not only is there the potential for new tributaries for economic growth, but a better understanding that disability can be a way for senior management to hone the very mechanisms of managing their organizations. Disability economics presents a new model for business leaders to rethink how they engage in this conversation and ultimately recognize that embracing this new mindset opens up the possibility that the writer Malcolm Gladwell calls it “desirable hardship”. Gladwell illustrates that “desirable difficulties” encompass hidden advantages that you can access while having to overcome various obstacles. In his book David and Goliath: Understanding the Misfits and the Art of Fighting Giants, Gladwell uses learning disabilities as an example, reiterating a recent study from the City University of London claiming that around a third of successful entrepreneurs are dyslexic. It is this reimagining of the role of disability in the business ecosystem that will compel us all to see that disability is central to our understanding of human variability and a foundation for innovation.

Each subsequent column in this series will look in more detail at specific aspects of the disability economy to provide businesses with greater insight as a cultural driver and guide organizations to make the most of this new growth opportunity. .

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