An estimated 1.3 billion people around the world have a disability – which represents a $8tn market for brands to tap into. In addition to the moral and legal imperatives surrounding disability inclusion, a clear financial incentive also exists. By partnering with the influencers with disabilities, brands can be more diverse, while also reaching lucrative new markets.
Inclusive fitness influencers
Sadly, as many as one in three people consider people with disabilities to be less productive than people without disabilities. As such, people with disabilities typically aren’t represented within the fitness industry. That said, an increasing number of accessible sports are being created, or modified, so people with disabilities can stay fit and enjoy greater independence – for example, adaptive swimming, para-cycling, and accessible basketball are some of the most popular inclusive sports. When it comes to disability fitness influencers, Jesi Stracham is a rising star: she’s a 29-year-old fitness coach with a T4 spinal cord injury. Jesi has quickly amassed over 250,000 TikTok followers by encouraging other people in wheelchairs to reach their full potential. “When I see people doing fitness on TikTok, it inspires me,” she explains. “I hope my content gives others ideas on exercises and the importance of implementing it to support the longevity of our independence.” Jesi is also aware of the importance of disability representation for self-esteem: “The more inclusivity we have, the more confidence we have in ourselves.”
Influencers aid in fighting inequality
Kurt Geiger CEO, Neil Clifford, says the boom in influencers with disabilities is driven by changing societal attitudes. The premium footwear retailer recently teamed up with trailblazing influencer, Bernadette Hagans, who had her leg amputated after a cancer diagnosis. “The boom in social media has given a voice to those who have previously been under-represented in the public eye and they are, quite rightly, demanding to be seen and heard,” Clifford says. “People expect businesses to utilize their influence to counter inequality and many brands are reacting to this need.”
Authenticity is key
Moreover, inclusivity can help brands achieve crucial authenticity, which without “…they’re simply a shell with no substance. In our online world where consumers can check, verify and confirm details in minutes, it’s essential that brands remain true to themselves and present their authentic self,” explains Dr. Annmarie Hanlon, a lecturer in digital marketing. “Disabled influencers need a connection with the brand they’re promoting for it to be meaningful. Having a spokesperson that’s living with a disability adds another layer of trust and credibility for the brand.” Pippa Stacey, an influencer with myalgic encephalomyelitis, further highlights the importance of influencer marketing being about more than just “the hard sell”. “It’s about supporting a positive image of the brand and their values, of which inclusivity should be central in this day and age,” Pippa says.
Ultimately, disability inclusion shouldn’t be seen as just a tick-box exercise. “Having an ongoing relationship with disabled influencers, and taking the time to understand their platform, and their audience, can help brands construct the most effective campaigns in a socially conscious way,” Pippa explains.
Freelance contribution especially written for Find Your Influence by Karoline Gore.