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Frontiers in Multicultural Marketing:  The Disabilities Market

Multicultural marketing is not an easy term to define.  Traditionally, it has been seen solely as ethnic marketing and, in fact, this is the way most of the scholarly literature sees it. As Burton (2005) notes, however, some researchers have broadened the definition of multicultural marketing to include the gay and lesbian market.  Other scholars also consider age and disability in their discussions of the subject.  This paper defines multicultural marketing in a way that is as inclusive as possible.  Multicultural marketing is about targeting, communicating, and using differentiated marketing strategies with diverse cultures including ethnic groups, religious groups, nationalities, people living in particular geographic regions, or groups that share common beliefs, values, attitudes or a way of life.  This definition includes the disabilities market.

The number of Americans who belong to multicultural groups has grown tremendously during the last decade.  By July 2004, according to the Census Bureau, there were 39.23 million Blacks / African Americans and 41.32 Hispanic / Latinos in the United States (using the “race alone” or “in-combination”; some individuals are members of both groups).   Most marketers are aware of the importance of these two ethnic groups and will consider targeting products and services to them.  Many of these same marketers will continue to overlook one multicultural group that is considerably larger than either ethnic group – the disabilities market.  According to the National Organization on Disability (2006), about 20% of Americans have a disability.  This number will continue to increase as the population ages; it is expected to double in the United States in about 15 years.  The world market for products for the disabled is also huge; it is estimated at 750,000,000 individuals (Massachusetts Department of Education, 2005).  About 25% of the population of the European Union has a disability (Backenroth, 2001).

Many of the negative beliefs about the disabled are myths, and are not true.  The disabled spend more time online than those who are not disabled, they travel a great deal, and they eat out; they do not sit in their homes 24 hours a day. The disabled population in the United States has an aggregate income of more than one trillion dollars (Chen, 2002).  Companies should do the research and determine how important this group is to their business.  A simple and effective way to do marketing research with this group is on-line.  It is much easier for many of the disabled to respond to on-line surveys than to fill out pencil-and-paper questionnaires (Chen, 2002).

According to a 2004 National Organization on Disability / Harris Poll (National Organization on Disability, 2004), assistive technology (AT), such as walkers and hearing aids, is important to this market.  One third of disabled people feel that they would lose their independence without the use of AT.  Fifty-six percent of those with disabilities are likely to feel a bond / common sense of identity with others with disabilities.  This percentage has increased, from 47% in the year 2000 (National Organization on Disability, 2004).  What this means to marketers in the United States and worldwide as well, is that companies have to treat this

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