Business owners who claim they can’t afford to cater to the disabled population will get an argument from David Lepofsky – he believes they can’t afford not to.
There are more than one billion people around the world, including four million in Canada, who live with a disability and businesses of all kinds need to sit up and take notice of that kind of buying power, said the Toronto-based retired lawyer and disability advocate. “I don’t know of any business that trades internationally that says, ‘One billion people? I don’t want to sell to them.’ That would be a remarkably imprudent business. A creative business person would say, ‘I want them,’” Lepofsky said.
“You either want the market or you concede it to somebody else and say, ‘Nah, I don’t want to make any money.’”
While the majority of the population doesn’t have a disability right now, they will eventually if they live long enough, Lepofsky said. That alone underscores the need to ensure service providers and product manufacturers build the disabled community into their business plans. Plus, any employee without a disability is just one skiing accident or eye injury away from having one, he noted.
“Imagine an architect designing a building without thinking about the needs of people with disabilities, which is why so many buildings aren’t accessible. It’s not a matter of saying, ‘Some won’t get in but the rest will.’ At some point, everybody won’t be able to go in,” he said.
It’s not just the disabled community that won’t open their wallets in inaccessible buildings, either. If somebody who uses a wheelchair is going out for dinner with three able-bodied friends, none of them will open the menu of a restaurant that doesn’t have a wheelchair ramp.
One of the best and worst examples of the benefits of servicing the disabled community is cell phones. When they were first made, cell design was based on the assumption that they were only going to be used by the able-bodied. Then, expensive adaptations were created that had to be purchased separately so that disabled people could use them. Today, phones built with a “universal” design can be used by everybody and the biggest practitioner of this is Apple. For example, iPhone settings enable vision-impaired customers to use larger font sizes and there are other adaptations for the hearing-impaired, too.
What didn’t go this route? Blackberry. “Blackberrys are completely unusable by blind people and there are 50 million of them in the world. Which company has the bigger market to serve, the one who has extra costs or its product can’t be used or the one who built it in for free? There’s a fine line between a smart business person and a not-smart person,” he said.
Lepofsky is coming to Winnipeg and will speak at a couple of events on June 8. The first is a 7:30 a.m. breakfast at Shaarey Zedek Synagogue; the second is a cocktail reception at the Manitoba Club at 5 p.m. Both events are sponsored by Lazer Grant LLP and admission is free.
Joel Lazer, senior partner at the Winnipeg-based firm, was so impressed after meeting Lepofsky that he thought his friends and business associates could benefit from hearing his words of wisdom. “Come and be inspired. I think David is enlightening. He talks so much common sense that’s not so common in the real world,” Lazer said.
Blind for most of his life, Lepofsky said Canada trails far behind the U.S. in terms of recognizing the disabled population as a market with plenty of disposable income.
“We want regulations to get us progress but we also want regulations that will make businesses money. Businesses want to know how wide the aisles should be in their stores and they don’t know about putting brail in elevators,” he said. “There are so many ways to do it easily, quickly and make a lot of progress. Everybody is happy, people with disabilities and businesses. There is nothing like the smile on a waiter in a restaurant who is able to give a blind person a brail menu.”
Jun 8: Breakfast with David Lepofsky, one of Canada’s most influential disabilities advocates
Jun 8: Reception with David Lepofsky
Sept 14: Lazer Grant 35th Anniversary Reception