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Economic Model of Disability

Welcome to the new website! Most blog posts will focus on access to audio via captions, but occasionally there will be blog posts about deafness and hearing loss in general, various technologies and communication types (such as hearing aids, cochlear implants, visual alerts, sign language, cued speech, interpreters, etc.) as well as about foreign language speakers and literacy issues – anything related to communication and information access that is based on universal design.

The reason the blog starts off with focusing on the economic model of disability is because many people think that universal access is something that benefits only people with disabilities. The more we learn about this model, the more we understand how it has evolved and why it benefits everyone, including businesses that find great solutions for customers with disabilities. It would also help businesses and individuals better understand why captioning is universal and benefits millions more people than just those who are deaf and hard of hearing.

Since people with disabilities make the largest minority, it is too significant to be ignored because they:

If products and services are not accessible to people with disabilities, the businesses lose not only them as valuable customers, but also more customers such as their family members and friends who “represent an additional 2 billion people with a disposable income of $8 trillion.”

Unfortunately, many businesses fail to understand the needs of customers with disabilities – mainly due to following either medical model or social model of disability, both of which are not demand-driven.

Following is the table created by Travavility that summarizes the differences between three models of disability and explains why the economic model is demand-driven.

Medical Social Economic
Medical care Social integration Economic Integration
Individual Treatment Social action Product development
Professional help Individual and collective responsibility Innovation in design and function
Personal adjustment Environmental manipulation Universal design
Behaviour Attitude Culture
Care Human rights Competitive advantage
Health care policy Politics Market forces
Individual Adaptation Social change Inclusion

Many businesses are familiar with various markets such as gender, age, ethnicity, but not so much with the market for people with disabilities who are currently “limited in how they can choose their products, whether or not these products are meant to accommodate their disability” – as Michael Jarger says.

If businesses used the economic model to analyze the disability market, they would find a lot of valuable information about their needs to create better products and services for them that would in turn benefit both themselves and their customers.

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