1 in 5 Americans lives with a disability and what that means for eCommerce

One in five Americans live with a certain degree of disability (all disabilities combined). That proportion is growing every year as society ages, but general health indicators decline.

In 2018, eCommerce accounted for nearly $526 billion (USD), up 16% since 2017 (source: eMarketer).

If we do some quick “back-of-the-napkin” math (20% of the population living with a disability and $526 billion in revenue), it gives us about $105 billion in online sales that would be made or influenced by this segment of the population.

So, what is considered a disability, exactly?

Good question. “Disability” is a relatively generic term that encompasses limitations that can be linked to motor skills (movement), eyesight, hearing, and more. Some disabilities may be present at birth, while others are triggered by an external force or accident, or may be developed over time. A disability isn’t necessarily a “health problem.” The term covers a broad range of conditions, each with varying degrees.

Here is a high-level glimpse of the types of disabilities and their relative “share” of the population.


Absolunet eCommerce Accessibility - types of disabilities


Disabilities are classified into 4 types:

1. Visual

  • Blindness
  • Partial blindness
  • Daltonism
  • Cataracts
  • Glaucoma
  • Macular degeneration
  • Retinal detachment
  • etc.

2. Auditive

  • Deafness
  • Partial deafness
  • Tinnitus
  • etc.

3. Cognitive / learning / neurological

  • Learning disabilities
  • Attention deficit disorder (ADD)
  • Attention deficit & hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Dyslexia
  • Epilepsy
  • Autism
  • etc.

4. Motor

  • Arthritis
  • Obesity
  • Amputation
  • Quadriplegia, paraplegia, hemiplegia
  • Cerebral Palsy
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Dystrophy
  • Polio
  • etc.
“Is this really a market, though? I don’t sell products that serve people with disabilities.”

According to the American Institutes for Research, “total after-tax disposable income for working-age people with disabilities is about $490 billion” and “discretionary income (fun budget, if you will) is about $21 billion, or more than that of the African-American and Hispanic market segments combined.”

Where do they spend?

Given that this is 20% of the population, it is not “them” but “us”; disability or not, we all want fast and free shipping, we all want easy returns, we’re all a bit uncertain about fit when we buy clothing.

A better question is: what makes a consumer with a disability complete a purchase?

Many shop only where Paypal is an accepted means of payment (for security purposes) or on marketplaces and sites like Amazon where you can buy, well, just about anything. Speaking of Amazon, even the online retail giant doesn’t meet 100% of accessibility compliance standards. The WAVE analysis tool reported 37 errors and 94 alerts on Amazon’s website (as of January 2019), though it still meets several important criteria including facilitating navigation, the introduction of assistive technologies to complete orders, all while offering fast and free shipping. For a person with reduced mobility, these are strong selling points.

Mobile is the key.

As with the overall population, mobile usage by consumers with disabilities is increasing both in the number of devices as well as “time spent on device.” In fact, over 70% of adults with disabilities own a smartphone. Makes sense, considering that mobile devices are themselves offering an increasing selection of built-in accessibility tools and options (hat tip to iOS and Android).

What’s the next step for a retailer who wants to improve accessibility?

Start by starting.

1. Compliance:
Find out which laws and regulations apply in your country/state/county/province. Here’s a good guide. https://www.w3.org/WAI/policies/

2. Prioritize:
Conduct an accessibility audit of your eCommerce website and determine, based on the audit, which accessibility functionalities are “must-have”, “should-have” and “nice-to-have”, and how they should be prioritized in the broader context of your roadmap.

Absolunet can help you with this, contact our team of experts and begin bridging the accessibility gap.

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