I know a lot about cochlear implants. A member of my family who is profoundly deaf can hear because of them. This firsthand exposure has made me realize how technology can both limit and expand the perspectives of people with disabilities. However, it is ultimately innate resourcefulness and innovative skill that enable people with disabilities to navigate a world that may from the outside seem filled with obstacles rather than opportunities.

Not everyone possesses these skills or can relate because they don’t experience the world with challenges like this. Consequently, many companies overlook the valuable abilities of people with disabilities. They choose the easy route, depriving themselves of the natural resourcefulness and innovation that people with disabilities bring to the table.

Our research shows that financial services firms operate and innovate in this unintentional mode. It reveals that banks, insurance companies, and wealth managers:

    • Modify rather than reimagine products and services. Financial services firms have attempted to personalize what are essentially commodity products largely by solving experience and design issues.
    • Think technology solves all. Financial services firms, like most institutions, have relied on technological approaches to create more inclusive products, services, and environments for their customers.
    • Do what’s required, not what’s best. Firms have succumbed to a compliance mentality: 95% of large firms only take actions that comply with disability regulations. But those regulations do little to meet customers’ needs, fail to consider how to delight those customers, and don’t recognize their talent.
    • Ignore the barriers that still exist for a large, diverse, and capable population. Misconceptions and negative stereotypes create barriers instead of opportunities for customers and the institutions that serve them. These barriers leave nearly three-quarters of people with disabilities outside the US workforce.

Yet as purveyors of money, financial services firms have an opportunity to lead.

How? Modify not just ways of doing things but ways of thinking about innovation. Shift focus away from accessibility and legal compliance to processes that put those with a disability at the center of innovation efforts. The resourcefulness of people with disabilities should be a starting point for creative efforts, not an afterthought. In the words of one expert on disability: “We need more ways to be. Part of that involves looking to alternative ways of sensing, processing, moving, understanding, and communicating and seeing those ways as good and worthwhile. Opening ourselves up to all-access thinking and disabled expertise will mean a more livable world — one that we all can inhabit.”

While I know a lot about cochlear implants, I don’t know what it’s like to be deaf. I do know that a disability isn’t a disadvantage. It’s a difference that we can all benefit from.

If you are interested in reading more about this topic, have a look at Financial Services Firms Need To Make The D In DEI About Disability Too. Clients looking for more specific advice should schedule a guidance session with me. If you’re interested in participating in future research on this topic, please contact me at dhoffman@forrester.com.