Taking The ‘Dis’ Out Of Disability

Carmen Jones triumphed over a crippling car accident to build a marketing firm serving disabled consumers

In 1986, Carmen Jones, then a junior at Hampton University in Virginia, was returning to campus after Thanksgiving break when a horrible car accident changed her life forever. Jones would never walk again, despite six months of hospitalization and intensive rehabilitation.

Scared, frustrated, and seriously hurt, both physically and emotionally, Jones vowed never to return to school. But she did. Through the inspiration of Hampton University president, William R. Harvey, her parents, and friends, Jones not only returned, but graduated with honors, earning a bachelor’s degree in marketing. One of the lessons she learned was not to give up or believe that some things just can’t be done.

Harvey, who had seen Jones on campus, as well as at the Hampton University Memorial Church, which they both attended, recalls helping out the young student. “Carmen is such a terrific person. And as a result of her accident, she was having a number of problems, as one might suspect, that called a lot of things into question about her future, her life, and her career,” he says. “I convinced her to come back to school, stay in school, and not let adversity stop her from achieving her dreams.”

Now, Jones is putting her degree to work. As president of Solutions Marketing Group (www.disability-market ing.com), an Arlington, Virginia, firm that assists mainstream businesses in marketing to, and servicing, people with disabilities, her goal is to inform and influence corporate America to direct more resources and attention to the disabled — a consumer group she feels is grossly underserved. Though small in stature, with about $125,000 in revenues for 2000, Solutions Marketing Group has landed such clients as American Express, America Online, and Darden Restaurants (operators of Red Lobster and Olive Garden restaurants).

The idea for the company came to Jones about five years ago when she worked in the marketing department of a healthcare company. “One day, after meeting with a client, the whole vision for the company just came to me, because I saw no companies that were targeting me as a disabled person,” she says.

And there’s little doubt that the disabled market is a huge one. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were 52.6 million disabled persons in the U.S. in 1997 (the most recent census data available), representing 19.7% of the American population. Jones says these disabled persons represent roughly $1 trillion in spending power. With the ratification of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, Jones figured this was an untapped market. “I saw an opportunity to leverage what, in its foundational state, is compliance into a business imperative,” she says.

The first step to starting her business was raising capital, so Jones turned to her husband, Carlton. “My husband and I were considering withdrawing from our [investment] club,” she explains, “and my husband said, ‘Carmen, you can use the money from that to start your business,’ so that’s what I did.” Jones used approximately $3,000 from the club and combined it with $3,000 in personal savings to cover the start-up costs

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