For people with disabilities, social prejudices can have an extraordinary impact.
According to Pew Research, U.S. adults with disabilities earned a median income of $28,438 in 2021, compared with $40,948 among those without a disability. Adults with disabilities were also less likely to say they own a desktop or laptop computer (62% for people with disabilities versus 81% for people without disabilities) or a smartphone (72% versus 88%).
A portion of those discrepancies can be attributed to demographics, the limited job market for workers with certain abilities, and other factors. However, social stigma remains a crucial part of the problem.
People with disabilities may be stereotyped as helpless or unable to make their own decisions. In many cases, the stigma is unintentional, but it’s still harmful. Whether you’re a content creator, developer, business leader, or marketer, you can take concrete steps against disability discrimination.
Recognizing (and Avoiding) Ableism
Ableism is a catch-all term for discrimination against people with disabilities. It starts with an assumption that people with disabilities “can’t do things the right way,” or that certain abilities are more useful than others.
Ableist language is everywhere, and some common phrases carry offensive connotations. For example, people who use wheelchairs aren’t “bound" to their wheelchairs; the phrase “wheelchair-bound" indicates that the user is permanently attached to the seat. Likewise, calling someone “crazy" might imply that emotional conditions prevent people from participating in society.
By using language thoughtfully, you can avoid defining people solely by their abilities. Of course, there’s quite a bit to think about — our style guide to writing disability-focused content provides a good overview, particularly for writers and marketers.
Don’t Pretend That Disabilities Don’t Exist
Challenging ableism isn’t just about using the right language (though that’s a good place to start). It’s also important to be aware of the reality of our differences, and where appropriate, celebrate the societal contributions of those with disabilities.
About 25% of adults in the US have at least one disability. Your audience includes people with different abilities, and recognizing those differences can help to start positive conversations.
Some quick ideas to keep in mind:
- Consider using images that feature people with disabilities. Disability:IN is an excellent resource for disability-inclusive stock photography.
- Don’t be afraid to discuss disabilities, but if you’re discussing an individual, make sure to get their consent. Use the descriptors that they use when discussing their condition (for example, some people prefer the term “Deaf person,” while others might prefer person-first language).
- Only discuss individual disabilities when they’re relevant. For example, if you’re writing an email highlighting an employee’s contributions to your team, you probably don’t need to include information about their hearing disability.
Planning Accessible Content
From your website to your email blasts, every digital communication is an opportunity to connect with your audience. If you’re not thinking about accessibility, you’re not making the most of that opportunity.
An estimated 96.3% of the internet’s top million homepages have accessibility issues, per a 2023 analysis from WebAIM (Web Accessibility In Mind). Many of those issues are easy to fix — for example, missing image alternative text, which is crucial for non-visual users — but only when organizations think about their users.
Planning for accessibility can help people develop a positive image of your brand, and more importantly, it’s the right thing to do. Quick tips:
- Talk about accessibility when planning marketing strategies and when developing new products. Don’t assume that a “typical user" exists, and follow the best practices of inclusive design. Read more: Five Strategies for Creating an Inclusive Design.
- Publish an accessibility statement on your website. Outline any steps you’ve taken to test your content and identify any known barriers. Read more: Do I Need an Accessibility Statement On My Website?
- Test your digital content against the Level A/AA standards of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). WCAG is the international standard for accessibility and the framework for many digital accessibility laws. Read more: How to Check WCAG Compliance: A Quick Guide.
- Consider accessibility training for developers, designers, and other members of your team. Read more: Can Digital Accessibility Training Help My Business?
At the Bureau of Internet Accessibility, our goal is to help clients develop long-term, sustainable strategies for digital compliance. To learn more, get started with a free automated website analysis or send us a message.