Business Opportunities In Disability

Redefining Normal; Creating A World For All Abilities through business

With over 80 million disabled or differently able people in the continent the market and needs for the disabled cannot be considered a small market. When this group is broadened to include people with ‘small’ disabilities then the number goes up to 40% a whopping 300 million of the African population living with a form of inability. This percentage may be higher in countries with an aging population (including developed countries). It is important to note that most disability businesses are not scalable because they are very specialised needs however with small adjustments and right positioning a good number of businesses can be scaled and transform the lives of millions economically.

A good example would be a wax that stops glasses from sliding. While initially it may seem like a product only for those who wear glasses; pushing up glasses seems to be a constant irritating habit in this group, the reality is that nearly everyone in the modern world wears sunglasses and, as a result, has a need for eyeglass wax. As with lip balm, the market is huge. Depending on how it is packaged it could be a cosmetic product like lip balm and toothpaste or a niche product for those who have to constantly wear glasses. The same applies to walking sticks, wheelchair and prosthetic limps as shown in the video below.

The aspect of disability includes assumptions that have been made in the past on general populations without considerations for people who do things differently. More like building things for right handed people without considering there are left-handed people. This includes learning systems that have not been sensitive to people who don’t learn through reading and writing (dyslexic).

With this understanding, it is obvious that to develop products and services that address disability you will need to be move beyond your ordinary abilities and give a little more in your offering. Given, the rewards may be much higher or lower than standard products developed for the populace but the reward is beyond the financial benefit, giving you a raison d’etre.

For the purpose of this blog the opportunities in this section will  be discussed in general. Following posts will give specific focus on the different forms of inability and the related opportunities. Feel free to post your comments, ask for an interview or partner with us for this section.

Opportunities in the sub-sector

Opportunities in the sub-sector are as varied as human needs and forms of disability (whether temporary or permanent) are as varied. For example, if you were to pick warm drinking receptors, you could produce coffee mugs for people with a mild form of muscular degeneration or those meant for those without arms at all or a receptor that can be attached to a wheelchair. Developing this product would mean it is applicable in other areas when there is temporary in capitation-like driving or sports.  The advantage of this is that from a strategic perspective your product would extend beyond a specific market segment to other associated segments at no extra cost. Opportunities include those associated with

  • Senses; hearing, touch smell, sight, taste or smell and associated functions.
  • Limps; hands, legs, and motor skills e.g. sports
  • Mind; learning disabilities, temporary insanity, counseling`
  • Services and products for caregivers
  • Services, products and facilities for disabled; housing, clothing,  equipment etc
  • Social and economic participation of those with disability e.g. jobs and / entrepreneurship opportunities and public social amenities
  • Distribution and information centers/networks for relevant products
  • Information Management; like with most industries in the continent (though admirably better than most) there is an opportunity to build cohesive  data for people with disability and their skills.

Opportunities can be capitalised on in varied ways including the use of technology (software, Apps or websites) or through a product e.g. equipment that improves motor skills or coordination of  disabled person,  through a service ( different forms of therapy) or events (recognition of unique accomplishments).

Each aspect will be discussed in future blog articles. Let us know below what your thoughts are below.

Key Success Factors

Innovative thinking; serving the needs of this sub-sector requires that you have a creative thinking beyond what you would have in your world as you are developing a product or serving a market that is not like you but may also not be something that has been done. This mean beyond having the idea in mind you will need a mastermind group especially if the service or product is an addressing the most complex needs of a group.

Focus; there is a need for focus especially if the targeted service /product is complex. Any innovative idea will require research, finances, experts (if you are not an expert in the field) and time. Study the people with the mildest form of the inability e.g. people who wear glasses, to the strongest form of it, in this case, blindness and choosing an area to focus on with  the highest impact on that particular population.

Inclusion in your team;  if you are not having a disability, while when serving other target clientele you may not necessarily have to have your customers in your team, as most of your team can relate to their circumstances. However, when serving a market with a form of inability having the profiled end customer in your team as part of the development of product or service adds immense value. Actively seeking to do this ensures your chances of not only meeting the need in design and specification is right but that auxiliary products and services associated are not overlooked.

Research; Given that you are likely developing a product or service that may not already be in existence for your particular target group research will be important. Such research should not only include the market but a reality, in this case, may be who will pay for the product after  you develop it, especially if it is expensive. Many forms of inability mean the targeted people are poor but need the service or product to move out of their quagmire.

Partnerships; with different stakeholders will be important. This may include with organisations that can fund your research and development, experts government ministries and target client associations. However be careful about who you partner with and at what stage of the development of your partnerships. Famous international brands coming into Africa have been known to take over concepts and not credit the innovators or developers for the innovation. Unlike in developed countries where copyright and patent laws work and are enforced. Any agreement in this situation may easily default or you may be paid off with very little. This is why once again your research is important.

Services; associated services with your product or service offering will be very important when serving the sub-sector. A simple product or service may not require much but it is likely your client may not have another user to relate with. The advantage with this is that it enables you easily meet future needs of the group segment beyond the product or service you are offering at the time.

Marketing Products Disability

With most marketing to consumers, the target customer is the user of the product. In many cases when you develop services and products for those with inability the target customer and the people around them as well as their doctors where relevant have to be marketed to. It is like developing a pill dispenser for a child who hates to take medicine. The easiest person to push your product would be the pediatrician and not the toy store.

So in light of this, it will be necessary for you to explore the different marketing opportunities beyond  where the normal consumer product is sold. In the example of our warm coffee mug above, initially, no one would understand what it is if it were placed alongside other mugs in the supermarket. However shown to a doctor who understands the different forms of muscular degeneration for their clients it would be easy for them to see the connection. Your marketing campaigns should target;

  • Associations and service centres where the client goes; special school, doctors etc
  • Celebrity support; Africa has not been known to use is celebrities much. However with a celebrity supporting your product it is likely that you will get other supporters to buy and use the product beyond the disability group where applicable relevant
  • Partnering with companies or international bodies from a CSR perspective to distribute or run a service centre. Celebrity support and corporate support can go hand in hand. A good corporate / body can bring in the necessary celebrity support making product launches and market penetration easier.
  • Educating the populace about the disability in a language they can understand
  • Blogs and social media groups.



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