Cultural change can be seen as a long and tedious process, often at a snail’s pace. Sometimes, however, we have to acknowledge a shift that happens in real time that is both important and telling. In the past month or so, two of pop culture’s iconic musicians, Beyoncé and Lizzo, have released music that contains the language of power. The reaction from critics was quick to point out the seriousness of the language being used, and it’s not good. Both Lizzo and Beyonce were aware of the need to change the lyrics, and each issued a statement that a new version of the song would be released.
While this situation is an example of the persistence of harmful language about disability, it also illustrates that a sea change is taking place. However, it is important to ask if this situation is a matter of social awareness, or is the market speaking and the artist appealing to the market itself? To be honest, it’s not an either-or issue, but rather represents the time we’re in. Disability culture is at a moment of great change, and for the first time the market itself is really starting to exert its considerable power. From the rise of the adaptive clothing market to accessible technologies affecting everything from web design and gaming, to various other growth areas redefining the relationship between disability and the larger cultural trends of the time, we are everywhere.
Not only does Beyonce and Lizzo’s response help to reframe narrative and suppress ableist language, but it’s also a sign of another change. Lizzo’s apology on social media and the re-recording of the two musicians is an act of recognition that the value of people with disabilities is on the rise. It is this behavior that should be a key marker for any company and its leadership that intends to engage in a larger disability strategy. Whether it’s an individual artist or a larger company, the values of respect, understanding, and acceptance are paramount in business and disability.
Having this level of emotional intelligence or emotional intelligence will be a core task for anyone dealing with the disability market in any capacity. In an age where social media has created a global city square, where conversations continue, the motto “No us, no us” is at the heart of the disability community identity, and companies must be ready to engage with the larger community, And get ready to win with evil.
The Beyonce and Lizzo situation opened the door for companies to see it as a template that could help them make positive change. The lessons learned here can be seen as an introduction to integrating emotional intelligence strategies into everything from communications and marketing to crisis intervention. While reactions to the use of this capable language should no longer be tolerated in principle, it is also a financial decision that can have a significant impact on a company’s bottom line. Cultural sensitivity is often seen as an afterthought and it must be made clear that it is not! It is an essential element in understanding the market and how to engage with your audience and connect with your potential customer base by building the level of trust that is critical to the sales and marketing terminology of the disability economy.