According to the definition of the World Health Organization (WHO), ‘is disabled any person whose physical or mental integrity is temporarily or permanently diminished, whether congenitally, or under the effect of age or an accident, such that their autonomy, their ability to attend school or to hold a job are compromised.’ Disability is multifaceted; it concerns motor, visual, auditory or psychic handicap just as much as intellectual disability and disabling conditions.
The situation in France is most worrisome: there are no fewer than 12 million French people with disabilities. A recent survey by Iperia L’Institut, entitled ‘Les Français face au handicap’ (‘The French faced with disability’) and published at the end of 2017, shows how worried French people are for people with disabilities. Nearly eight out of ten people in France believe that people with disabilities are isolated, and 97% consider it important to train personal carers to ensure their proper care.
In a recent article published in Recherche et Applications en Marketing, Nathalie Dubost challenges the researchers that we are on the current state of scientific production on people with disabilities and their consumption—a context of study with numerous societal stakes. The author gives a retrospective view of the main conclusions that emerge from the current research on disability—the ‘Disability Studies’—as well as the marketing studies that relate to the consumption practices of people with disabilities.
An ambivalent representation of consumers with disabilities
Nathalie Dubost shows that there is not one but two representations of consumers with disabilities. On one hand, he/she is seen as a passive consumer who limits himself/herself to communicating his/her needs while waiting for an adapted offer to be designed. On the other hand, he/she is considered an active consumer who seeks to adapt to the marketplace and acquire autonomy in all the choices he/she makes. No matter the representation adopted, the ‘Disability Studies’ come to the harsh conclusion that studying the consumption behavior of people with disabilities does not allow a real improvement in their quality of life!
A necessary integration of people with disabilities into the research process
Research in marketing is unanimous—it is important to enable people with disabilities to participate in the research process to promote the adoption of a reflective stance on their consumption environment, and lead to true appropriation of research findings. Even if participatory research is not applicable to all forms of disability—such as psychic or mental handicap—areas for improvement are developed. It becomes urgent to:
- Harness the skills of people with disabilities so they can think about the products that really suit their needs;
- Better understand the caregiver-care receiver relationship and the decision-making dynamics that binds them;
- Enable people with disabilities to self-report the affect they are feeling with regard to their disability in order to develop consumer solutions that are tailored to each individual.
We have just stated the keys to a fruitful participatory research—one that creates value for all stakeholders. Without doubt, these keys will lessen the worries shared by French people and identified in the last survey of Iperia L’Institut, and will lead to a customized product offering conducive to a better quality of life for people with disabilities.
Now that we have talked about marketing researchers, what are practitioners doing? What steps do they implement to develop an offer that corresponds to the real needs of people with disabilities?