Re-Thinking the Purple Pound and What it Means for Scottish Business

By Paul Alexander

03 Dec 2020

One in five potential customers living in the UK have some form of disability and almost three-quarters of those people are estimated to experience significant barriers when using more than a quarter of everyday websites, causing them to find alternatives or, sadly, give up entirely.

These consumers represent a staggering amount of lost revenue across the high street, hospitality, supermarkets, energy, telecommunications, transport and finance and building societies.

So, What's the Purple Pound?

The Purple Pound represents those people and their £274 billion spending power - a huge amount of potentially missed sales for businesses that don't embrace accessibility and inclusion.

Across the above sectors, this totals hundreds of millions of pounds, according to We Are Purple UK.

These categories stand to lose the most through inclusivity and accessibility barriers:

High Street Shops – £267 million

Restaurants/Pubs/Clubs – £163 million

Supermarkets – £501 million

Energy Companies – £44 million

Phone/Internet Providers – £49 million

Transport Providers – £42 million

Banks or Building Societies – £935 million

While this problem is a big one, it isn’t unsolvable - there are hundreds of everyday devices, companies and product designers actively building a more inclusive and accessible future.

What can businesses do about it?

It’s Time to Re-think Inclusivity and the Purple Pound

It was recently Purple Tuesday and today is International Day of People with Disabilities (#IDPWD) and, while I completely appreciate the purpose and principle of the Purple Pound, I want to challenge businesses to think more deeply about inclusivity than how it can affect their bottom line.

Disability Activism has been compared to Punk Rock, and roundly applauded for it, and this comparison made me think about inclusive design and how easy it is to co-opt the principles of the Purple Pound and reappropriate them to be directly for profit.

The core of Inclusive Design is (unsurprisingly) inclusion. It's about creating experiences with affection and empathy at their heart, making products and services available to everyone. It's not driven by profit.

While many often view Inclusive Design as some sort of intimidating new field, it’s not. The reality of it is that inclusion is at the heart of all great design, products and services. It broadens our thinking, our user base and reaches across permanent, temporary and situational impairments.

Without polyphonic ringtones my Mother wouldn’t be able to hear her telephone. For many unimpaired users it’s a nice novelty to have the option for different ringtones but for my Mother, who’s high tone deaf, it’s a necessity.

Born Out of Love, Adopted for Ease

Some of our greatest everyday innovations were designed with impairment in mind, such as the typewriter. One of the first typing machines was invented for Countess Carolina Fantoni da Fivizzano, in the early 1800s. She was the friend and rumoured lover of inventor Pellegrino Turri. The countess slowly lost her vision. At this time, the only way for a blind person to send letters was by dictation. Obviously this limited privacy and also left the visually impaired open to the risk of misrepresentation.

In order to work around this, Turri invented a machine that enabled the countess to write to him in secret by pressing a key for a single letter, raising a metal arm to press each letter into carbon paper. From there the modern typewriter was born and lead to keyboards used for word processors, computers, tablets, mobile phones etc.

This was invented out of love (allegedly) not profit and it is conceivable, one of the most influential inventions in communication.

Another great example is the recently vilified bendy straw, which was invented when Joseph Friedman watched his daughter struggle to drink a milkshake using a traditional straight straw. By inserting a screw and wrapping wire around it he was able to mimic the grooves of the screw. When he removed the screw it created an accordion effect allowing the straw to flex. This made it easy for his daughter to drink from a tall glass. The benefits extend to those who are confined to bed and can’t hold a glass to people sitting in a cinema not wanting their cup to block the view of the screen.

These are two examples of an exhausting list where designing for inclusion with affection and empathy lead to exceptionally useful and influential products. I don’t believe either of these inventors sat weighing the potential profits to be made before proceeding.

Remembering The Person We're Helping

In the digital world you are never far away from the trap of things becoming checklist items, at this point do you start to forget why you really do them? I have certainly seen that happen when looking at accessibility. Too many times people will get bogged down in checking off interpretations of black and white standards, and they lose sight of the person they are meant to be helping.

My worry is that while Purple Pound highlights the need for inclusive solutions, does it generalise too much? We’ve all heard clients talk about making their site accessible as if it’s something you can just switch on. We need to live in the grey, there is no such person that fits the description of normal.

I love that the Purple Pound helps highlight and reinforce the importance of inclusion and accessibility in our lives.

I love that the Purple Pound demonstrates the shortfall that businesses have when dealing with disabled customers.

I love that the Purple Pound speaks to decision makers and helps leverage inclusion as a design principle.

I hate the fact that we need to rely on profit as a driver. Instead of valuing our consumers we put a value on them and dehumanise something that should be people driven.

What do you think? Feel free to get in touch with Paul on LinkedIn or Twitter to talk about how accessibility and inclusion can become more mainstream.

More Articles