The factors that create economic success for businesses for the able-bodied population do not necessarily apply to the Adaptive Community. These factors can be thought of as creating an alien ecosystem. Let’s call this ecosystem Planet Adaptive.
On Planet Adaptive there exists an 800 lb. gorilla, named Igor, A.K.A. the insurance industry combined with governmental regulation. Igor influences everything that happens on Planet Adaptive. When people pay for mobility and medical related products, Igor must approve of both the payment and the device. If Igor doesn’t like a device or feels it is not “necessary”, he doesn’t pay for it. As a result, companies are constantly seeking Igor’s approval as part of the innovation and manufacturing process. Without Igor’s approval, companies must depend on the relatively poor inhabitants to pay for items. These inhabitants have been conditioned to accept products that are typically both expensive and have a low level of function. They have come to expect one-size-fits-all products that don’t really met their needs. Those that are able, buy and use them anyway, since they know that there are few or no other options available.
In order to obtain Igor’s approval, companies go out of their way to establish the medical necessity of their product. As a result, few of the products on Planet Adaptive are intended for fun or high performance since Igor wouldn’t approve of them otherwise. Innovation on Planet Adaptive is stalled since once a product makes to the “good enough” stage, there is little incentive to improve it. Competition is minimal since new companies are faced with the high risk of developing a product that doesn’t meet Igor’s approval. Thereby, creating a high barrier to entry to the marketplace. Planet Adaptive is rife with oligopolies.
In many cases, Igor doesn’t really understand the products and the needs of the inhabitants of Planet Adaptive. He is set in his ways and not flexible to change. He is also inconsistent. Sometimes, he will pay an exorbitant amount of money for a product that would sell for far less off Planet Adaptive. Other times, he denies payment for reasonably priced and useful products. His fickleness makes it hard for manufacturers to survive and prosper. Many soon give up and seek the more hospitable and profitable economic ecosystems found elsewhere.
Finally, there are the designers and engineers of the products for Planet Adaptive. Most don’t live there. They live off-world and observe the inhabitants from afar. They are heavily influenced by their preconceptions and implicit bias. They come to their decisions on what the inhabitants want and need without deeply interacting with them. They tend to sample only a FEW of the inhabitants before drawing conclusions about the desires and behaviors of ALL of the inhabitants.
As evidenced by the results, the traditional method of product innovation typically doesn’t succeed on Planet Adaptive. Successful innovation will require much greater inclusion of the inhabitants of Planet in the process. As long as people with disabilities are seen only as the potential customer pool, and not involved in the entire process of product development, this situation will not change in a meaningful manner.
It is not enough to interview a few people with disabilities and conclude that you have done your homework. In order to effectively solve problems and develop successful products for the Adaptive Community, you must have a deep understanding on the nuances of the problem. It is likely you don’t know what you don’t know. The lived perspective and inclusion of people with disabilities is essential to the process of developing comprehensive rather than surface understanding.