IBM has become a leader in demonstrating that having a clear disability presence in the workforce translates into better, more competitive product designs. Having employees with disabilities playing an integral role in the product design process, IBM has become a world leader in applying the principles of universal design to their products and service. Rapidly emerging as a key paradigm across many different fields, universal design “is the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design” (Mace, 2008). Further, by incorporating a disability perspective into the design process, IBM has found that their products have become more useable and more marketable to all customers, not just those who have disabilities. This has resulted in a clear competitive advantage for the company.
Earlier, we discussed the positive message sent to customers when employees with disabilities are visible in your workplace. Some employers, however, may be concerned about "exploitation" or "tokenism." But consider this: When disability inclusive images used in advertising or marketing are backed up by an authentic, sustained commitment to disability inclusive workplace practices, everyone benefits. Your business wins because you’ve enhanced your public image and competitive advantage; your employees win because they have built a more trusting relationship with organizational leadership; your customers win because they are more likely to have accessible products, programs and services.
Have you seen this advertisement? At the top of a skill hill we spot a young man from afar just as he is about to start a run. The camera follows him as he heads gracefully down the ski slope at full speed. It’s only when he is nearly to the camera that we notice he has one leg. As he stops with a swoosh in front of us, the camera closes in on his face. “Awesome, dude!” he erupts as the camera catches his smile. Companies such as AT&T, Avis, Nordstrom, Home Depot and many others have begun to include new images of people with disabilities in their marketing efforts. This represents a departure from previous images of disability which depicted people with disabilities as helpless poster children, as selfless heroes, as all being alike, or as objects of pity. In the images used by more progressive companies, disability is simply portrayed as part of the diversity of the human condition—as one part of someone’s overall social, recreational or professional identify. The key to ensuring that you are portraying positive images of disability is to involve employees or members of the disability community in crafting your public or branding images.