Discussion about disability access tends to centre around the frustrations that individual disabled people experience when we cannot use a service or enter a building. Whilst the individual burden of inaccessibility is a great reason to want to remove disabling barriers, here are some entirely selfish, non-altruistic reasons why everyone should want to make access equality their own mission too.
1. More than 1 in 5 people in the UK are disabled, and that number is increasing due to an ageing population. The ‘purple pound’ (spending power of disabled households) is worth an estimated £274 billion a year. One might then assume that financial incentive has prompted businesses across the UK to ensure everyone who wants to spend money with them can, but this is not the case.
75% of disabled households have opted out of spending with businesses due to poor access or customer service. This amounts to a collective loss of about £2 billion a month, from high street shops to banks, and restaurants to transport providers. It is also estimated that of disabled customers online (who have a spending power of £16 billion a year), 4.3 million people are clicking away from inaccessible websites, costing UK businesses £11.75 billion a year.
60% of people underestimate how many disabled people there are in the UK. A common bias among business owners, forged by a cycle of inaccessibility, is disabled people not being able to access a business or service, the business owner not (knowingly) seeing disabled people there, assumes there is not a need for access accommodations, which in turn perpetuates the lack of access for disabled people.
Disabled customers need goods and services as much as non-disabled people, and if businesses do not address access inequalities, their bottom line is ultimately impacted.
2. There is a historical pattern of technology created to serve as disability aids and tools, or those popularised through use by disabled people, being adopted by non-disabled people. Examples include audiobooks (and audio time-stretching), computer chips, commercial email services, drop-down kerbs, flexible drinking straws, pop-sockets (for holding mobile phones), voice recognition and text-to-speech software that led to Siri and Alexa.
Disability is a driver of innovation, and disability adaptations often make life easier and better for everyone.
3. Disabled people being able to participate in society provides important perspectives and skill sets in all facets of life. Examples include building design, advertising, and government policy. Disabled people are not a monolith, we are as multifaceted as non-disabled people, but traits I often see in fellow disabled people include outside-the-box thinking, resilience, determination, and compassion. These are traits that tend to serve humanity well.
4. Everyone could sleep a little easier at night knowing that even if they become disabled (which most people will at some point in their life), they will have their basic needs met, and their human rights, safety, and autonomy respected.
Our usefulness to society should not be the motivator for access equality, but these points demonstrate how access accommodations and the involvement of disabled people in every area of life is beneficial for wider society. Those not making a space for us at the table are missing out.