Rich Donovan, CEO, The Return on Disability Group, rings the NYSE Opening Bell® to celebrate the launch of the Barclays Return on Disability Exchange Traded Note (NYSE Arca: RODI).
customer segmentation, profitability

Shifting Perceptions & Shaping The PWD Story Around Profitability

In advertising, everyone wants to connect with Millennials – it’s the customer group to engage with. And why not? Dozens of industry reports point to this youth market as one of the most influential, largest groups with the most disposable income. Where do you think people with disability, as a minority group would rank? According to Rich Donovan, CEO of The Return on Disability Group,“With an estimated population of 1.3 billion, people with disabilities (PWD) constitute an emerging market the size of China. Their Friends and Family add another 2.3 billion potential consumers who act on their emotional connection to PWD. Together, they control over $8 trillion in annual disposable income. Companies seeking new ways to create value for stakeholders have a strong interest in attracting the spending of this increasingly powerful cohort.”

Rich Donovan easily sees, translates and shares the added-value benefits inclusion of the disability market brings to corporations and governments. From the website,, I learned that Rich “is a globally recognized subject matter expert on the convergence of disability and corporate profitability. Rich created the Return on Disability concept and model, and he provides corporate and government clients with insights and tools to frame disability as a global emerging market.”

Recently I had the opportunity to interview Rich and learn more about how he and the Return on Disability Group are making an impact.

Can you share more on the background of the Return on Disability? What keeps you passionate today?

It all comes back to one simple thing in business, what gets measured gets done, and frankly disability has never been legitimately on the radar. Many major corporations that have multiple brands under their management, collect, measure and monitor dozens of different data points on each consumer cohort, but disability has rarely been factored in.

Among the top performing brands, disability has never been measured in as rigorous a way that other typically sought after groups have. People with disabilities are a part of the marketplace – in a big way – and at the end of the day, there is an opportunity to measure impact and The Return on Disability Group is doing that.

What would you say has been the biggest stumbling block to greater visibility and voice for people with disabilities in advertising?

I think it all comes down to risk. Many times we cling to what we recognize and are familiar with. Marketers’ decisions are often rooted in the data and understanding of the marketplace, but that data doesn’t exist for people with disabilities like it does with other segments. It is difficult to see past that risk to the opportunities with that data and information.

What you’re going to see over the next few years is a data revolution where brands and companies are going to buy into the size and scope of the disability market, but to get that new data in front of these marketers is going to require rigorous research and understanding.

If you’re managing a billion dollar brand you’re not going to take a risk on disability, without a rigorous approach.

Within your business, what has been the most surprising insight for you?

I expected there to be much more skepticism, but the conversations have been simple. Brands will jump on this pretty quickly if you give them the data. The goal for these companies is to not connect their brand with people with disabilities once and walk away but to build this connectivity into the muscle of the company and brand.

Rich Donovan, CEO, The Return on Disability Group, rings the NYSE Opening Bell® to celebrate the launch of the Barclays Return on Disability Exchange Traded Note (NYSE Arca: RODI).

Can you share more about the Return on Disability Index?

The Return on Disability Index started as an internal measurement tool for our clients structured around three buckets: customer , talent and productivity. But I saw that this could be used as a research tool for a stock analysis and over several months went through the largest firms in the U.S. and Canada and determined who the best companies were in relation to creation of shareholder value with people with disabilities. The performance of the top actors stunned me.

Here’s more from the Return on Disability Group’s website:

The Return on Disability Group produces various equity indices containing the best performers in disability for global stock investors. These equity indices are updated and published daily by independent financial institutions. They provide a basis for investors to satisfy Environmental, Social and corporate Governance (ESG) investment mandates while maintaining focus on shareholder value.

Why does this work? Companies that ‘do disability well’ are also generally responsive to their customers, focused on finding great people, understand efficient process and outperform their competition in terms of value creation. Disability inspires lean process, innovation via extreme users and is a proven pool of talent – enhancing productivity. Over four research cycles generating over 156,000 data points, we have shown that companies that generate results on the Return on Disability model deliver increased shareholder value as measured by stock price gains.

When speaking to marketers or advertising agencies, is there a singular piece of data that you share that is the ‘ah ha’ or ‘lightbulb’ moment for them to see the opportunity to be more inclusive?

There are 2 specific pieces. First the disposable income of people with disabilities has always been portrayed as people with little money, but we’re seeing that the numbers, while they are slightly below average, represent a material addressable market. The picture painted by charities of destitution simply does not reflect the reality of the average consumer with a disability. People with disability are a viable market but have been portrayed as an impoverished group to raise charitable funds.

The second piece of information to consider is that friends and family are a key part of this market and it is NOT just people with disabilities that shift spend upon material outreach. Friends and family are impacted by advertising and from a brand perspective it doesn’t get any more powerful than the emotional tie to disability that can connect an entire family to an attractive message or igage.

Including friends and family in the people with disabilities population takes us from roughly 19 percent of the total US population to more than 55 percent and as a brand you could make a decision to not look at the 19 percent people with disabilities marketplace but to ignore the inclusion of family and friends would be foolish. This isn’t a niche – it’s a blockbuster.

The disability market is the biggest new market out there.

For more information on RIch Donovan and the Return on Disability Group, visit


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