Mike Adams OBE tells us how his initiative, Purple Tuesday, is helping businesses to tap into the power of the Purple Pound – an estimated $8 trillion worldwide – by improving the disabled customer experience 365 days a year.
How do you identify as disabled, and what does it mean to you?
I identify as Mike, who happens to have a disability. My disability is a physical one. I describe myself having short legs and no arms. It is me. I know no different as I have lived with my disability since birth.
Tell us a little about your business.
Purple Tuesday, which was created in 2018, is an initiative which focuses on improving the customer experience for disabled people.
The consumer spending of disabled people and their families in the UK is £274 billion (known as the Purple Pound): Purple Tuesday aims to tap into that power. In effect, Purple Tuesday enables organisations to have a better relationship with existing and potential disabled customers and their families by introducing accessibility changes which improve the quality of experience.
Purple Tuesday is the flagship initiative of Purple, whose aim is to change the disability conversation from one about vulnerable people, charity, welfare and the responsibility of the government to one about value, contribution, community and opportunity for both disabled people and businesses.
Why did you start the business? Share your story so far.
The year before we launched Purple Tuesday, I visited a shopping centre to buy my Christmas presents. As I have a physical disability, I use a wheelchair when I am out. In a non-scientific experiment, we visited 28 shops, and in 23 of those shops we were either completely ignored by frontline staff or they only spoke to my partner. I realised that it was not direct discrimination but a fear of unintentionally saying and doing the wrong thing that made staff swerve the conversation altogether.
Two days later, I attended a Government retail roundtable meeting where they were looking for ideas. I told my story and said that we currently have Black Friday and Cyber Monday, so we should create Purple Tuesday.
Thus Purple Tuesday was born. From starting in retail, we now cover all sectors of all sizes. Last year, the Purple Tuesday celebration day had over 19 million impressions and reached #2 on Twitter worldwide.
What do you see as the main challenges facing your business and its continued operation or growth?
The main challenge at the moment is getting organisations to recognise that implementing the suggestions Purple Tuesday gives them for their own benefit, and not them doing us a favour. Purple Tuesday is about helping organisations to improve their physical, online and people accessibility so that they can reach a huge but currently untapped market and thus drive revenue. It is about helping them to deliver their raison d’etre to customers.
The key to growth is that the initiative is owned and driven by disabled people. The initial reservation of the disabled movement was that it would become a tokenistic one day celebration, rather than something which is about creating accessibility 365 days a year. This year we had 15 Purple Tuesday Disabled Customer Ambassadors: we have already reached and gone beyond the required tipping point.
What can we do to encourage more disabled entrepreneurs to start businesses – what is holding them back and what can we all do to help change that?
We need to show disabled people the power of their lived experience: how they can then bottle it and actively use it in so many different contexts. Disability is traditionally seen as a charitable thing: we need to win the commercial argument to enable and unlock disabled people to become flourishing entrepreneurs.
We also need to make training and development in entrepreneurship and the accessing of entrepreneur skills both normalised and accessible.
What do you consider your greatest achievement or the proudest moment in your life so far?
Being recognised by the Queen with an OBE in 2012 for my services to disabled people, and standing on the stage at the world Expo in Dubai last December launching Purple Tuesday as a global initiative.
If there was one thing you could change about peoples’ perception of disability what would it be and why?
Seeing disabled people as a value and opportunity rather than a health and safety risk and cost.
Who or what inspires you?
The growing number of Purple Tuesday Disabled Customer Ambassadors who are really accelerating the growth of the initiative, using their own lived experience and their social influencing networks and expertise.
Do you have a recommendation for a book or a podcast which has helped you along your journey?
In April, I attended a Chamber of Commerce conference in Brighton where I met Richard Freeman. He runs a podcast called The Possibility Club, which is brilliant. I was recently honoured to be interviewed as part of this series: you can listen to it at Spotify, Apple or Always Possible.