The Marketplace and I: Commercial experiences of disability explored through art

The Marketplace and I

The Marketplace and I aims to shatter the ability-disability dichotomy and dominance of ableism that permeates UK and global societies. Through artworks, it seeks to transform positively the lives of persons with disability and those close to them.

Approximately seven million people of working age are registered as having a disability in the UK and hold an estimated spending power (‘the purple pound’) of around £249 bn. Yet, the UK’s failure to appropriately cater to them sees monthly loses of £163m for restaurants, pubs and clubs, £267m for high street shops, and a mammoth £501m for supermarkets.

The reason for this is society follows a structure of ableism, privileging the able-bodied over persons with disabilities. This creates a stigma against disability, and a permeating belief that persons with disabilities are not valuable, and are unable to contribute to society.

Throughout 2019, Dr Leighanne Higgins asked consumers across the UK living with disability to create a personal artwork individually representing their commercial experiences in marketplace settings. The Marketplace and I was born.

The project, funded by The Marketing Trust, culminated in an art exhibition of nine collections, representing a range of disabilities including sensory, cognitive, physical, and both hidden and visible disabilities. The collections represent a multitude of commercial experiences ranging from access to theme parks, shops, and healthcare services, to public and company perceptions of disability. The artworks include song, dance, poetry, photography, painting, installations and sculpture.

Commercial experiences of disability

Take a look at some of the artwork from the Marketplace and I, and allow Dr Leighanne Higgins to guide you through her work.

The Marketplace and I

Transcript for Commercial experiences of disability

So, my name is Leighanne Higgins and I'm a Senior Lecturer in Marketing at Lancaster University Management School.

My work on disability access to marketplace and commercial settings began in 2015 - 2016.

I wanted to understand what were the barriers to access to commercial settings for persons with disabilities, and as part of that I travelled with a wonderful charity called The Jumbulance Trust.

There were so many things that the people I was working with couldn't do and were reliant and needed assistance with.

But there were these beautiful, creative ways that they expressed their sense of self. and I just thought, how great would it be if instead of us doing the traditional interview, we actually heard their experiences or saw their experiences through the way that they actually express their sense of self through their creative talents. And also, in doing that, I thought that way we're prioritising ability over disability. We're not looking at what they can't do, we're looking at what they can do and we're prioritising that, and from that, we can learn about commercial experiences and how the marketplace could actually change to better include persons with disabilities.

It's hugely important that we address marketplace accessibility issues, and the reason for that is there is 1 billion people, approximately a billion people, which is 15% of the world population, who are actually registered as disabled. So that's a huge part of the world.

It's actually the largest minority group that we have.

From a financial perspective, it's hugely important. The purple pound, which sort of shows the disposable income of persons with disabilities, that's estimated at £7 trillion across the world. And within the UK, it's estimated that the disposable income of persons with disabilities is £249 billion. So that's a huge amount of money that the marketplace and commercial settings could be tapping into.

But further from that, we're also seeing that a lot of people are going to be transitioning into disability due to COVID, due to the pandemic, and due to the fact that we're an aging demographic.

We're all temporarily able-bodied, that's what Dan Goodley, within Disability Studies says, because we all are going to suffer sort of bodily deterioration as we age.

So disability is something that marketplace and commercial settings really do need to think about and marketplace accessibility is a huge area that really is deserving of marketing and company attention.

So in terms of how retailers can improve marketplace accessibility for persons with impairment and their family members, there's lots of different ways that they can do it.

Quite often through sort of regulations such as the DDA or the ADA in America, we see that there are regulations where they have to have ramps, where they have to have elevators, where there has to be sort of disabled access.

But I think the biggest thing that companies really need to focus on is seeing the person behind the disability, knowing who to talk to and knowing how to interact with persons with disabilities.

I think that's the core thing, that we need to see the person behind the disability and work out how companies can really try and embrace the person over the disability.


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Three people attending a presentation photographed through a glass wall covered with post-it notes


Everything displayed here is so powerful and I love reading the different stories. It’s made me think how often do I look down, how often do I see a person in a wheelchair, how often do I acknowledge people in wheelchairs and people who differ from the “norm” – whatever that is? The truth is rarely, you have opened my eyes to something here.

A quote from The Storey Exhibition, 2019.

I was totally ambushed by the exhibit. I walked into it curious to see - nothing more. I found myself with tears running down my face. Extraordinary. Powerful. It described my life with my profoundly brain-damaged son. This is raw, but it is also real, and people should maybe know this.

A quote from The Gregson Exhibition, 2022.

The exhibition was so moving, we just had to stop and have a hug and cry together after the tour, because it was so emotional, beautiful, eye-opening and thought-provoking - it's touched our souls.

A quote from The Fringe Exhibition, 2022.


Accessible Marketing Art Exhibition

Lancaster MSc Marketing students created and exhibited artworks as part of a module examining the experiences of people with a disability in the commercial marketplace.

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