Looking at the Disability Economy in its current incarnation, we can see it as a natural extension of the social and political advocacy movements for Disability Civil Rights that were critical in pushing for greater inclusion and active participation. Yet, it is important to understand that the Disability Economy both in the abstract and practical forms is fluid, and we must be able to ascertain not only what this means, but how to think about envisioning a future reality where disability is central to improving the human experience.
Presently, as we further examine this new economic reality, we are finding key themes that are making their way to the forefront of the conversation. Ideas from accessibility, diversity, and inclusion to ESG investing are the basis for the present thinking of how business is redefining a new paradigm of disability. The maximum “Nothing About Us Without Us” is evolving into something beyond its political intention, but a clarion call for organizational culture to see disability as part of the nomenclature of daily business practice. It is this transformation that is the mechanism to open the floodgates to fulfill the true potential of the marketplace whether from the vantage point of employment, products, and services to workplace design and management strategies. By reframing the world’s largest minority, the disability community can be seen as a vision of experiential learning that opens a whole new world of possibility and provides a company with an approach to leverage a tool for competitive advantage.
Yet, even while this article is being written changes are happening in real-time across the corporate ecosystem in the advancement of accessible technologies, rethinking design across a myriad of verticals, to engaging with the disability narrative to offer a new perspective on the future of work. Businesses can no longer afford to take the philosophy of the Disability Economy lightly. Leadership must embrace professor and writer Adam Grant’s view of rethinking when he states that one must display a level of “…being actively open-minded. It requires searching for reasons why we might be wrong—not for reasons why we must be right—and revising our views based on what we learn.” It is this level of vulnerability that will allow organizations to not only seek out further conversations across the disability community but see the potential of opportunities from a much larger vantage point.
Even as we move forward into this new phase of the Disability Economy, it is critical not to rest on our laurels, but to see that these recent developments only serve as a precursor of a promising future. The question remains, how can the Disability Economy continue to maintain its growth trajectory, and what does the future hold? To begin to even contemplate that we must focus on building a culture where the Disability Economy can separate itself from its roots of social change and political advocacy and see itself as an essential component of creativity and innovation. It is here where the Disability Economy can both integrate into the larger cultural milieu of business, but also be recognized as a long-term value play that is critical for growth.
The future growth of the Disability Economy is very much dependent on how society connects to the disability experience. Businesses need to recognize that the narrative of disability is inherent to the human story and that emotional bond is the pathway toward establishing future market opportunities. French anthropologist and business consultant Clotaire Rapaille wrote that “Emotions are the keys to learning, the keys to imprinting. The stronger the emotion, the more the experience is learned.” It is this very idea that will offer the context for the future development of the Disability Economy. Seeing disability for what it is, part of human variability opens the doors up for businesses to standardize disability in a new way to define a growing business opportunity that will continue to transform the way we engage with the world on multiple levels.
As organizations begin to explore the cultural and social nuances of the Disability Economy in more serious ways, the next step for leadership is to understand both the complexity and sophistication of what is needed to embrace its full potential. The future of the Disability Economy will be for leadership to be open to change and recognize that while there is an established disability community, the disability experience is something they could very well be a part of, and it is time to embrace this new philosophy as a function of future business thinking.