Delight as a Business Case - Disability as the Growth Edge for Design

Part of the joy of being around children is observing the intensity of their sensation and their delight in discovery of new meaning in the smallest of things. The allure of travel is the promise of another chance at this childlike experience of self-discovery. 

The product of the travel industry is experience. Marketing a destination, a travel product, or a service sets quality expectations in the customer's imagination. Customer satisfaction requires shaping the traveler's imagination with an expectation then satisfying the desire for what is often a location-sensitive experience. 

Delivering quality at the level of customer experience involves the industry understanding how different market segments receive the implied promises communicated in messaging about the travel product. Quality delivered is a product flawlessly matched to its promises. 

Quality control begins with product design. The task of the design phase is to meld engineering and empathy. It is no coincidence that "imagineering" is the name given to this by Disney - the world's most renowned experts on quality control of a location-based experience.

Product design starts by accurately grasping the sensory experience and imaginative repertoire of the customer. Quality means that not only are their needs met but that these needs are exceeded in a way that evokes delight. Delight erupts because the customer senses an unexpected depth of understanding about themselves structured into the travel product. In a very literal sense, at times, product design involves meeting with the broadest range of expected customers and having them test the product under the widest range of conditions then modifying to create a product that is sustainable in the marketplace. (When it is satisfied customers tell the story of their meaningful experience and reinforce the power of the product.) 

 The experience of delight has very concrete chemical consequences. The biochemistry of delight establishes a cascade of physiological responses that externally might result in a smile, laughter, or a certain liveliness of movement. Internally, delight creates a sense of well-being accompanied by heightened confidence, motivation, and sensory alertness. 

A traveler is reduced to the lowest level of human need by the act of travel. On the positive side this allows one the leisure of "leaving it all behind" and the freedom to "reinvent" oneself in a new location. One the negative side the traveler is overwhelmed with the need to meet the basic human functions of food, clothing, personal safety, and shelter. In Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Human Needs the traveler is thrust to the bottom level of human existence where success results not in delight but simply in diminishment of stress. 

Another way to say this is that all travelers are disabled. 

We can say this only if we reject a common misunderstanding that disability is a medical issue predictable by reference to the condition of body parts or to sensory capacities. This ignorance is taken as highly insulting by most persons with disabilities who travel. Instead we can say all are disabled by travel if we adopt the definition of disability used by the United Nations and the World Health Organization. This definition emphasizes that disability arises only in the interplay between one's abilities and the environment. 

This two-pointed perspective suggests that answers to the pragmatic difficulties of travel lie in honest awareness of the prevalence of mismatch between design and human abilities in context. On the ethical side is suggests that there is an affirmative social obligation to citizens, and human beings in general, to design for full inclusion regardless of abilities. 

The "secret hidden in plain sight" is that implementation of these pragmatic and ethical insights more than three decades ago in certain countries has created a generation of persons with disabilities who have succeeded academically, socially, politically, and professionally. In the process they have become a powerful force. Coincidentally they are aging en masse. They are the Baby Boomers. The consciousness they embody as persons with disabilities is inseparable from what their age cohort will demand as their temporary medical condition as able bodied matures to the normal state known as "disability" through the natural process of aging. 

Not surprisingly this underserved market of persons with disabilities who have broken down the barriers first to physical accessibility and then to social inclusion are exerting an unmistakable set of quality expectations on all businesses. This may be seen most powerfully in the travel industry where their sense of entitlement and accumulated wealth will not diminish as their bodily functionality does. It suggests that rather than being an annoyance to be lamented, a risk to be mitigated, or an expense to be avoided those traditionally labeled as "disabled" are the experts to be consulted on how to reduce the experience of disablement during travel by those who may have more physical function but less resilience adapting to environments and business practices that exclude through bad design. 

What is the business case for delight?

  • To delight a customer with a disability is to delight the 1.5 people who traditionally travel with them. 
  • To delight a customer with a disability sets in motion story-telling about your product from inside the demographic which travels more by word of mouth recommendation than any other travel demographic. 
  • To delight a customer with a disability is to have recruited a loyal customer who is more likely to return and statistically will stay longer than any other travel demographic. 
  • To delight a customer with a visible disability is to delight you customers, usually unknown to you, who have invisible disabilities and interpret your high level of customer service as proof that they can count on you for the same.
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