Background The turn to neoliberalism in welfare policy suggests that human services need to be based on a market approach. The problem with this suggestion is that it presupposes marketing information such that service providers can market their services for identified client needs. In the field of intellectual disability (ID) services this type of information is not available.
Method The method is a reflective analysis of the key presupposition of a market-orientated approach to disability services, namely that service providers know who needs what. Using insights from marketing theory the paper engages in a reflective thought experiment to lay out the intricacies of this presupposition.
Results The analysis results in an argument regarding the validation of a market-based approach to disability services. First, this approach has its limits in view of the question of whether the specific and atypical needs of people with ID, as well as their financial position as potential consumers constitute a market. Second, the approach has limited validity both in view of the ability of people with ID to act as consumers, and of the restrictions imposed upon them by the eligibility criteria for welfare and support programmes.
Conclusions A market-based approach to disability services and supports can be helpful to spur innovation and further political and philosophical inquiry in human services, but the neoliberal optimism about the market as the only successful mechanism for service distribution is misplaced.