July 2023 Accessibility Corner Blog

July 2023 Accessibility Corner Blog: Disability and the Creative Economy

This blog will describe the creative economy, and how we can make it even stronger through inclusion and accessibility.

Artists with disabilities have unique individual perspectives, and their respective perceptions of disabilities can be a generative force in their work. By acting on inclusive values, people with and without disabilities can work to universally drive the creative economy, grow jobs, and enhance our quality of life!

Creative Economy Data

The creative economy is defined as a set of art, culture, design and innovation industries, and the economic contribution of those industries within a geographic region. A unique set of industries comprises each local creative economy, reflecting the culture, traditions and heritage of that place. There are over 100 industries included in the creative economy, including fashion, culinary arts, folk and traditional arts, music, digital arts, design, film, television, performing arts, photography, and much more!

According to a 2022 Report (DOC), the creative economy is among the most rapidly growing sectors in the world. The sector continues to grow in the U.S., where the creative economy is valued at $877 billion or 4.2% of the country’s GDP.

Tens of millions of jobs are generated through the U.S. creative economy. The creative industries support diverse opportunities: up to 35% of all women owned businesses and approximately 38% of BIPOC-owned businesses are classified in the creative sector.

That said, there is room for improvement. The creative economy can be more diverse and inclusive, and this is especially true for those with disabilities. As a first step, more data about how many people with disabilities engage in the creative economy.

In 2021, the Ford Foundation’s Creativity and Free Expression (CFE) program conducted survey research to better understand creative groups’ current activities, needs, and opportunities related to disability. The survey provided rare information to help learn what challenges disabled creatives are facing, and how to best support them in their fields.

The research results clarified that in order to make progress, participants in this sector must invest in accessibility and work together to support change based on inclusive values.

Investing in Inclusive Values

Upstart Co-Lab worked with a diverse group of stakeholders to identify key characteristics of the creative sector that can be applied to make the economy more innovative and effective.

Openness and Experimentation

A Culture of openness and experimentation allows organizations and businesses to envision creative solutions to accessibility challenges. The following questions may help indicate how open a culture is to experimentation:

  • Is the working environment encouraging of new ideas and marketing approaches?
  • Is there infrastructure for exchanging and communicating new ideas?
  • Are creative solutions and thinking outside the box rewarded?
  • Are employees and/or volunteers trained and provided orientation materials encouraging experimentation and learning opportunities?
  • Is the environment flexible and supportive enough to allow people to generate new perspectives and strategies?

An experimental culture helps actors in the creative sector adapt to a fast-changing economy and ever-adapting culture.

Diversity and Inclusion

Diversity in the creative economy is not only a moral best practice, it is a strategic advantage. Diverse teams solve challenges faster and more effectively because there is a variety of backgrounds, skills, and ways of thinking present. An inclusive culture allows everyone to engage in addressing challenges. Talents are maximized when everyone feels comfortable and heard.

  • Is there a culture of inclusion when people are promoted and advanced in this sector?
  • Are there constant efforts to improve inclusive design and the creative economy’s social needs?

Creativity works best when diversity and inclusion are valued.

Traditional Innovation

Creativity links the past, present, and future in a cohesive way. Respecting the creative sector as a community is necessary to providing sustainable solutions to challenges and change.

  • Is there a commitment to community engagement and stakeholder feedback?
  • Is there dedication to environmental sustainability?
  • Is there consideration for data ethics and privacy in the long term?

Communities have the knowledge and wisdom to address new and ongoing needs. These are valuable resources to be harnessed.

Read more about values for the creative economy from Medium.

Economic Empowerment Model

Arts Education

Education policies must be accessible and inclusive to all. Life-long learning is becoming an essential tool, and arts education must be available to all. As a report from the United Nations (DOC) emphasizes, policies can create places such as fabrication laboratories, where artists and designers can experiment with new technologies that are accessible for everyone.

Accessible Spaces

Where the arts and creative industries exist in physical spaces, accessible and universal design is needed. Universal design aims to create products, environments, and services that can be used by as many people as possible, regardless of their abilities or identities. It is a design philosophy that strives to create products, environments, and services that are accessible and usable by the broadest possible range of people, regardless of their abilities or identities.

Digital Accessibility

Digital technologies are increasingly used in the creative economy. Digital accessibility is designing digital content to give everyone full access and use. Digital content can include websites, apps, electronic documents, kiosks, and more. Learn more by reading CCI’s blog on digital accessibility.


Disability does not exist in a vacuum. Rather, someone’s experiences of and with disability are affected by (intersect with) factors such as race, class, sexuality, and gender identity.

Read more about disability inclusion.

By investing in inclusive values and actualizing an empowerment model in the creative industries, both artistic expression and the economy can thrive.

Created by Sarah Harrison, Program Manager and 504 Representative for Colorado Creative Industries.

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