Is the the Disabled Market the Next Big Multicultural Opportunity… particularly online?

March 6, 2008

Posted by Jose Villa

Lately our agency has been working on a couple of Web projects for clients that require Section 508 compliance because they receive federal funding. Without getting into the somewhat complicated details of Section 508 compliance (feel free to read about it here), it basically involves making sure a Web site is accessible to individuals with disabilities as protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act. A big part of this requirement often involves making Web sites friendly to screen readers and magnifiers used by the blind.

In addition, we are starting to hear more and more clients inquire about making their Web sites accessible to individuals with disabilities. This has led me to start thinking about the disabled market in the U.S.

First, some definitions. Per the U.S. Census Bureau, “there is no one definition for disability.” In fact, the Census Bureau collects disabled population data using four different surveys. However, the Census classifies disability into to two categories: Nonsevere Disability and Severe Disability. For more information on these definitions, see page 2 of the Americans with Disabilities: 2002 report.

So how big is this market? According to the aforementioned Census report
- 51.2 million people (18.1% of the population) had some level of disability and 32.5 million (11.5% of t

he population) had a severe disability
– About 10.7 million people ages 6 and over needed personal assistance with one or more activities of daily living (ADL) or instrumental activities of daily living (IADL)
– Among the population 15 and older, 2.7 million used a wheelchair. Another 9.1 million used an ambulatory aid such as a cane, crutches, or walker.
– Approximately 7.9 million people 15 and older had difficulty seeing words and letters in ordinary newspaper print, including 1.8 million people who reported being unable to see

The next question is whether this is a lucrative market for companies to consider. put out an article in 2002 that people with disabilities maintain an aggregate income that exceeds $1 trillion, with $220 billion in discretionary spending power.

To put all of this data in perspective, the disabled market is larger than the 44 million+ Hispanic population that spends $575 billion (according to Synovate's 2004 U.S. Hispanic Market Report).

Lastly, according to a 2000 Harris Interactive report, 40% of people with disabilities are online and spend twice the time logged on than their non-disabled counterparts. If you think about it, Internet technology is probably extremely empowering for the disabled, allowing people with various degrees of disabilities to more easily get news, communicate with others, shop, and consume entertainment.

Clearly, this is a big topic, and an even bigger opportunity. We’ll be posting more information in the weeks to come.


About Jose Villa

I’m the founder and President of Sensis, a cross-cultural advertising agency with digital at its core. I launched Sensis as a Web development firm in 1998 and one of the first agencies focusing on the Hispanic digital market. Our agency has since grown into a unique full-service ad agency – that takes a digitally-infused cross-cultural approach to the general market. I am passionate about cross-cultural marketing and always trying to push the envelope of multicultural advertising. I write regularly for MediaPost, AdAge,, and here! I also speak at a lot of advertising conferences like SXSW, Hispanic Retail 360, Hispanicize, and AHAA.


  1. When counting the number of folks with disabilities, don’t forget to factor in the effects of aging and the crunch the baby boom will have on the percentage of Americans with disabilities. This number will do nothing but increase as the infirmaties of age take their toll.

    It is encouraging to read when somebody truly understands the great equalizer that computer technology is for people with disabilities. The field of assistive technology goes far beyond screen readers for the blind, which, by the way is how I am reading your site because I’m totally blind.

    I sincerely appreciate your perspective and encourage you to share this viewpoint with anybody interested in expanding their online appeal.

  2. Ron,

    Thanks for the insightful feedback and information. I did not even consider the impact that the longer life expectancies among baby boomers will have on this marketplace.

    We will most definitely continue this discussion and encourage your sage contributions.

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