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The Curb-Cut Effect

Extraordinary things happen when products, services, spaces and experiences are designed to be accessible by people with disabilities.

Shortly after footpaths were redesigned to accommodate wheelchair users in the mid 1970s the benefits of curb-cuts began to be realised by everyone. People pushing strollers, riding on skateboards, using roller-blades, riding bicycles and pushing shopping carts soon began to enjoy the benefits of curb cuts. These facts are good examples of why footpaths with curb-cuts are simply better footpaths.

This phenomenon is referred to as the "Curb-Cut Effect”.

There are many examples of the Curb-Cut Effect; innovations developed by, or in support of, people with disabilities that benefited everyone. In 1808 Pellegrino Turri built the first typewriter proven to have worked for his blind friend Countess Carolina Fantoni da Fivizzono. He wanted her to be able to write love letters legibly.

Television caption decoders designed for the hearing impaired have wound up benefiting tens-of-millions of consumers in diverse ways. For example, captions enable:

  • People to "Listen" to programs, in silence, while someone is sleeping or in noisy environments like pubs;

  • Children to learn to read more effectively by displaying words as they are being spoken;

  • Adults to learn a second language more effectively by displaying words as they are being spoken; and,

  • Theater goers to understand foreign language movies through the use of native language captions;

Today the term ‘universal design’ is used to define the philosophy and process of designing products, services, spaces and experiences so the widest range of people possible can use them. Universal design evolved from ‘accessible design’, an approach that focused on disabled people’s needs. Universal design is discussed widely in disability circles, but is seldom implemented by non-disabled people who commission and design products, services, spaces and experiences. Mainstream inclusion of universal design is an opportunity for businesses of all sizes to develop innovative products, services, spaces and experiences that result in significant improvements in outcomes efficiency, effectiveness and/or quality leading to improvements in growth, loyalty and profit.

There are key similarities between the Curb-Cut Effect and reverse innovation. Wikipedia defines reverse innovation or trickle-up innovation as a term referring to an innovation seen first, or likely to be used first, in the developing world before spreading to the industrialized world. The process of reverse innovation begins by focusing on needs and requirements for low-cost products in countries like India and China. Once products are developed for these markets, they are then sold elsewhere - even in the West - at low prices which creates new markets and uses for these innovations.

According to John Hagel III and John Seely Brown in their 2005 McKinsey Quarterly article titled Innovation blowback: Disruptive management practices from Asia "the periphery of today's global business environment is where innovation potential is the highest... Edges define and describe the borders of companies, markets, industries, geographies, intellectual disciplines, and generations. They are the places where unmet customer needs find unexpected solutions, where disruptive innovations and blue oceans get birthed, and where edge capabilities transform the core competencies of the corporation."

The needs of people with disabilities constitute such a periphery where innovation potential is at its highest and with an estimated global population of 1.27 billion this relatively untapped market is the size of China.

Contact me to find out how you can take advantage of the Curb-Cut Effect to improve the growth and profitability of your business.

Sally Coddington

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