Carol Kaufman-Scarborough is a professor of marketing at the School of Business in Camden. She has taught at Rutgers since 1983. Her courses include global marketing strategy, consumer behavior, and retailing and electronic commerce. In 2002, Kaufman-Scarborough received the Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching from Rutgers. In September 2005, she was named undergraduate program director for the School of Business. Focus writer Amy Vames spoke with Kaufman-Scarborough about disabilities that often get overlooked by marketers, such as color blindness and attention deficit disorders. For additional information and links to resources for students with disabilities, visit Kaufman Scarborough’s website.
Focus: You’ve done research on color-blind consumers. How did you become interested in this field?
Kaufman-Scarborough: I had been looking at disabilities issues but more in terms of mobility. I had a student who was color blind; he could see only shades of white, black, and gray. I had assigned the class to look at products on the shelf. The students had to talk about the display, what it looked like, whether it was effective. This student said ‘I can’t do this,’ so I changed his assignment to what it’s like for him, what can we learn from color-blind people.
Focus: What did you find in your research?
Kaufman-Scarborough: We teach so much about package design, especially related to colors, how to create contrast on the shelves, but there are many for whom that isn’t even relevant. Or, more typical, they may not see color the way we expect them to see it.
Some people have problems with such things as indicator lights, such as on a computer or an appliance; sometimes red is seen as black or white. Color names often don’t really tell you what part of the color palette they’re in. Some color-blind women I interviewed talked about getting a color analysis done for their makeup so they could know what colors looked good on them. If the makeup names weren’t descriptive enough, it was difficult for them.
Focus: Is this type of disability on marketers’ or stores’ radar?
Kaufman-Scarborough: No, it’s not on their radar at all. The argument is that the population is small but it isn’t. It’s not just something you’re born with: Certain medications, such as those for depression and heart problems, can change color vision, as can certain diseases, such as diabetes. One estimate says about 41 million people are affected in some way through medication, illness, or injury.
Focus: What can marketers do to help the color blind?
Kaufman-Scarborough: Simple things. For instance, when color is used, there should be redundancy, which means provide the same information in a non-color form. When we press the green debit button, it also should say debit. Have clarity in color names. And have assistance available. Color blindness also affects employees: One man I interviewed who worked at a major book seller was asked to write markdowns on items with red ink. But he couldn’t see red; he said it was like writing with white-out. Exit signs aren’t visible for some. Some are now green and black instead of red.
Focus: Can you also talk about your research on consumers with ADD/ADHD (attention deficit disorder/attention deficit hyperactivity disorder)?
Kaufman-Scarborough: An overwhelming environment can be a turnoff to anybody but it’s extremely difficult for someone with ADD/ADHD. They may be overwhelmed by instructions. If ADDers don’t make a list of what they are shopping for, they may be attracted by something else and forget what they went in for.
Focus: Is there anything stores can do to help them?
Kaufman-Scarborough: A number of stores have maps; often the aisles are numbered. Having something concrete can help every customer, such as phones in the middle of the store to get help. A lot of ADD consumers shop online and try to make lists to avoid the confusion of a store.