Purple Tuesday, an initiative to celebrate the spending power of disabled people in the UK by calling on businesses to make themselves more accessible, has kicked off 2019’s edition with an appearance on London’s Piccadilly Lights highlighting key facts about the "purple pound".
Purple, the organisation advocating for a better relationship between disabled people and businesses, said that despite 20% of people in the UK having a disability and their spending power totalling £249bn, only 10% of businesses considered disability in their strategic planning.
The consequence of this, according to research from Purple, was that three-quarters of disabled people have at some point left a store or website due to issues around accessibility. Large numbers of disabled people said they would be more likely to spend money with businesses that improved staff understanding of different disabilities (56%), store accessibility (41%) and the overall customer experience for disabled people (41%).
Businesses supporting Purple Tuesday today include Sainsbury’s and Argos, which have started a trial of "Sunflower Hour", in which stores will create a calmer environment with less background noise, as well as offering a sunflower lanyard to shoppers as a sign to staff that they may require extra support.
While retail is a crucial touchpoint for businesses to meet the needs of disabled people, advertising can also create barriers.
The Royal National Institute of Blind People has called on retailers to include audio description in their ads to make them accessible to blind people.
RNIB chief executive Matt Stringer said: "There is absolutely no reason why retailers can’t audio-describe their adverts so that blind and partially sighted people are included at Christmas. It’s easy to produce, at a tiny fraction of the budget that big brands spend on their advertising campaigns. They are also missing out on marketing their products and services to up to two million people, which makes no sense at all."
Brands that have committed to creating audio description for all ads include Procter & Gamble. Speaking at the Lead conference last year, P&G’s former UK marketing boss Stefan Feitoza invited the audience to close their eyes to briefly experience what it is like to have sight loss. "You can sense how a simple innovation – very simple after you have the insight – can change the life of the consumer and ensure that marketing is a force for good," he said.
Asda and Marks & Spencer, among other brands, have committed to offer audio description in their Christmas campaigns.
Nathan Ansell, clothing and home marketing director at M&S, said: "We’re committed to making M&S the UK’s most accessible retailer, whether customers are shopping online or in-store, and of course we want everyone to enjoy our Christmas campaigns."
Data speaks for itself
Martyn Sibley, founder and chief executive of the Disability Horizons magazine and community, and author of Everything is Possible, told Campaign that brands did not need any special expertise to be inclusive and accessible to disabled people.
"When businesses see disabled people as consumers, the solutions appear easily," he said. "How would any business address a £249bn market? They'd do market research for key insights, they'd innovate products accordingly and then run a marketing campaign with appropriate messaging and media.
"If 20% of society is said to have a disability, let's get 20% of ads reflecting that through disabled talent. I'm a believer that influencer marketing is here for good and getting bigger. The conversion data speaks for itself and brands are increasing spending there. So let's also work with disabled influencers.
"Of course, not all disabled people have the same needs, but like all good marketers we can segment this consumer group. In asking the right questions, we'll find the right answers. What do wheelchair users need in physical and digital spaces? How about visually impaired consumers? Or neurodiverse, hearing-impaired or even older people?
"In the end, it's down to market insights, universal design and inclusive marketing. Most of all, we have to overcome the fear of engaging with what has been a very ignored and excluded group of society. But that's now changing."