DisabilityThe economic impact of the COVID pandemic means many businesses are having to re-think their business models and find new markets. Could Universal Design or ‘designing for all’ be a worthwhile strategy to help your business discover new market opportunities?

Firstly, what does Universal Design mean? The short answer is that it aims to meet the needs of any type of customer in the most effective way.
If we look at the market for any business, it’s made up of (i) individuals who are interested in the product or service on offer; (ii) are able to access these products/services; and (iii) have the means to pay for them. When evaluating whether a business has potential, the size of this group of individuals is important - the bigger the pool of potential customers, the greater the potential of the business.
But what happens if you have inadvertently structured your business in such a way that it prevents access to a large group of these potential customers?
That’s where Universal Design can help, it encourages you to think about how you can make it easier for ALL potential users or consumers to use your product or service and thereby increase your sales.

The limitations of focusing on ‘the average’

One of the biggest problems is that very often market research focuses only on the needs of your average customer. This may be a missed opportunity. Have you looked at the needs of the people lying outside the average? For example:

  1. People with disabilities - If you haven’t included this group, this could mean you have been ignoring the approximately four million people with disabilities (PWD) in Australia who have a combined disposable income of around AUD$45 million . When you look at the international market, you are talking about over 1.3 billion people which is on par with China’s population. Disabilities are not just physical disabilities, but can also include intellectual disabilities that affect someone’s ability to learn, mental illness, neurological or immunological disabilities. In fact, most disabilities are not visible. In Australia, the NDIS now gives people with disabilities far more economic independence and influence over their saving and spending decisions, making them an important market segment.
  2. Friends, family and carers - Add to that, the families, friends and carers of PWD and you are talking about 2.2 billion customers who manage over US$8 trillion annually in disposable income.
  3. Ageing population – Australians are now living an extra 10-30 years compared to 100 years ago and currently 1 in 7 Australians are aged 65+. Older people are a diverse and different group. While the prevalence of disability increases with age - one in nine (11.6%) people aged 0-64 years and one in two (49.6%) people aged 65 years and over has a disability ; in 2003-04, people aged 55 and over owned 48 per cent of Australian household wealth, a figure that has jumped to 56 percent.

If you look at those numbers, you can see that market research that focuses only on the average user, may be causing you to miss out on a whole group of customers who have the economic wherewithal to spend in your business.

Every user or customer wants to feel respected and have a good experience when interacting with your business and the products or services you provide. Universal Design provides some guiding principles to help you achieve this.

  • Equitable use. Does the design of your product/service appeal to all users and provide them with the same experiences without segregating or stigmatising any user group?
  • Flexibility in Use. Does your product/service accommodate a wide a range of body sizes, preferences and abilities? For example, wheelchair users, people on crutches, an older person using a walker or a mum with a pram?
  • Simple and intuitive. Is any important information easy to perceive regardless of users’ knowledge, language skills, concentration level or experience? Could your website be improved by not using timers and countdowns that create a sense of urgency; showing clients where they are in your service journey; being mindful of giving users enough time to complete tasks; explaining what will happen next after someone completes a task; making important information clear on your website; allowing users to check answers before submitting them in an online forms and being flexible in terms of how people access your services.
  • Perceptible information. Are your products/services/communications intuitive, clear, and unambiguous to use regardless of distractions in the environment or the user’s sensory abilities e.g. sight or hearing. For example, do you use captioning on videos?
  • Tolerance for error. Do you minimize hazards and the consequence of accidental actions, such as hitting submit before completing a form, having an undo button or being able to save work?
  • Low physical effort. Is it easy for users to access your premises and use your products comfortable, for example having automatic doors, which are useful for mums with prams, delivery people and those in wheelchairs?
  • Size and space for approach and use. Can people access information whether they are short or tall, seated or standing? Can they use your product easily regardless of their size or mobility?
  • Cultural appropriateness. Are cultural values respected and reinforced in the social, economic and environmental context of any offerings?

If you would like to move beyond the average and grow your customer base by creating inclusive and accessible products and services, then there is some help available. The ACT Office of Disability is providing grants of up to $20,000 for projects and initiatives that address barriers to access and inclusion for people with disability. You can find out more at https://www.communityservices.act.gov.au/disability_act/recipients/2020-disability-inclusion-grants-guidelines.

Designing for all people regardless of age, size, ability or disability makes for better design; and better design is good for business.

Want to join other small businesses looking at how they can incorporate Universal Design Principles in their business? Join our FREE Mastermind group. Our small business mastermind group is a peer-to-peer mentoring group used to help members to discuss ideas and solve problems with input and advice from other group members. Our Mastermind group looks at a range of topics such as innovation in products and services, anticipating trends, finding new product lines, cutting costs, efficient communication and marketing strategies. Contact enquiries@lighthouseinnovation.com.au to find out more.

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