Best Practices for Advertising

A white boy with Down syndrome appears in a Target Catalogue toy ad in Australia. He has light brown hair and is wearing a long-sleeve blue sweatshirt. A red and white circle has the words “450 pieces $7 set” and behind the boy’s left shoulder it says, “Compatible with market leading brands.”GADIM’s first recommendation to the advertising industry in a country is to read Article 8 of the UN Convention on the Right of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD):

  1. States Parties undertake to adopt immediate, effective and appropriate measures:

a) To raise awareness throughout society, including at the family level, regarding persons with disabilities, and to foster respect for the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities;

b) To combat stereotypes, prejudices and harmful practices relating to persons with disabilities, including those based on sex and age, in all areas of life;

c) To promote awareness of the capabilities and contributions of persons with disabilities.

  1. Measures to this end include:

a) Initiating and maintaining effective public awareness campaigns designed:

i. To nurture receptiveness to the rights of persons with disabilities;

ii. To promote positive perceptions and greater social awareness towards persons with disabilities;

iii. To promote recognition of the skills, merits and abilities of persons with disabilities, and of their contributions to the workplace and the labour market;

b) Fostering at all levels of the education system, including in all children from an early age, an attitude of respect for the rights of persons with disabilities;

c) Encouraging all organs of the media to portray persons with disabilities in a manner consistent with the purpose of the present Convention;

d) Promoting awareness-training programmes regarding persons with disabilities and the rights of persons with disabilities.”

GADIM understands the societal and business constraints of a country’s advertising industry, but there are ways for advertising to include more representation and inclusion of person with disabilities.

U.S. media and disability scholar Beth Haller, a co-founder of GADIM, says, “people with disabilities use all the same products and services that non-disabled people do, so they should be part of advertising images like everyone else. Advertising represents our capitalistic culture back to us and it should include everyone.”

Hiring Practices

In the creation of advertising content that is inclusive of disability, we recommend hiring people with disabilities both in front of and behind the camera when creating ads. In addition to the advertising industry hiring disabled models and actors to appear in the ads, GADIM can recommend consultants with disabilities who can advise on campaigns for disability inclusion. GADIM believes all consultants should be paid for their work.

GADIM’s advisory committee member Josh Loebner, who is visually impaired and the Global Head of Inclusive Design at Wunderman Thompson, reminds the advertising industry that persons with disabilities represent 15% of the world’s population, 1 billion people. He told Adweek that he sees a positive trend in advertising with the industry taking cues from the better disability representation in popular culture. That means hiring more disabled people to be in ads.

For example, four-time Emmy winner Peter Dinklage of “Game of Thrones,” who has dwarfism, appeared in a Dorito’s corn chip Super Bowl ad in 2018. But it is not just famous disabled people who need to be more represented in advertising. Loebner said that the advertising industry can find disabled models and actors for ads by tapping into disabled people all over online media platforms. “People with disabilities [are] creating content across social media, podcasts, YouTube and other platforms, [and] together elevate disability visibility and voice.”

Content about Disability

Advertising content should not misrepresent the experiences of disabled people and how they interact with the world.  Campaigns should avoid perpetuating myths and negative stereotypes about disability. By employing disabled people as consultants (and doing what they recommend), ad campaigns can avoid many negative stereotypes.

Advertising industry content should not objectify disabled people as a way to make audiences feel pity or inspiration. Ads should present disabled people as multi-dimensional, not as a medical diagnosis. Campaign representation should not be unrealistic or tragic. Disability should not be associated with evil in an advertising campaign. The majority of disabled people live regular, happy lives and do not become bitter because of a disability.

Ableism in the Portrayal of Disability

Because nondisabled people control the advertising industry, the majority of content reflects the beliefs of nondisabled people about disability. Every aspect of the media content contributes to how society perceives disability. All media content about disability affects attitudes and behaviors toward disabled people in a society.

Poor choices in presenting disability in advertising content can lead to more ableism in society. But when companies actively try to avoid disability stereotypes, they can disrupt ableism.

Gucci’s 2020 campaign, “Unconventional Beauty,” focused on “non-stereotypical beauty” to introduce its new Gucci L’Obscur Mascara. The company hired Ellie Goldstein, an 18-year-old, British model with Down syndrome, who became the first model with Down syndrome to be featured in any Gucci advertising. “Most of the creative team behind the shoot are also physically disabled, further shutting down ideas of ableism,” said the website Digital Beauty.


The advertising industry should seek to reflect the diversity across individual experiences of disability, and campaigns should include people with a wide variety of disabilities: people with physical, sensory, cognitive, or intellectual disabilities. People whose disabilities affect their appearance should be included in campaigns, as well as those people whose disabilities are hidden or are not apparent.

All media should understand that disability intersects with other factors. People of all genders/sexuality, races/ethnicities, ages, and in all geographic locations experience disability. Too often the advertising industry features images of cisgender white people with disabilities.

As Catia Malaquias, a co-founder of GADIM and founder of the disability in advertising project in Australia, Starting With Julius, says, “Advertising should be bold and reflect the world in which we live. With one in five of us living with disability, having a disability is a natural part of the human experience and, like other forms of diversity, it should be represented, not excluded.”

Resources for the Advertising Industry:

#WeThe15, “Downloadable Assets (images and graphics), [A global movement founded by a coalition of organizations from sport, human rights, policy, communications, business, arts and entertainment, uniting to change attitudes and create more opportunities for persons with disabilities]

3PlayMedia, Captioning Best Practices for Media and Entertainment

Ace Metrix, “Disabilities in Advertising: Representation is on the Rise” 

Gus Alexiou, “Advertising Industry Must Overcome Its Anxiety Around Disability Representation,” Forbes 

Jo Arden, “Disability in advertising shouldn’t be something we only see once every four years,” The Drum (UK)

Association of National Advertisers (USA), “Best Practices for Portraying People with Disabilities in Advertising”

Attitude Foundation of Australia, “Attitude Foundation guidelines for content writers”  

Michael Bratt, “The disability market: An untapped and bankable segment,” The Media Online (South Africa) 

Caroline Casey, “Brands and Disability Inclusion,” The Marketing Society (UK)

Anna Cavender, Shari Trewin, & Vicki Hanson, Accessible Writing Guide, SIG ACCESS

Sarah Cavill, “People with Disabilities Have Money to Spend but Are Often Overlooked” 

Creative Diversity Network, “What is the Social Model of Disability” [Video]

Jonathan Crowl, “How Top Brands Are Including Disabled Representation in Their Marketing Campaigns,” Skyword 

Avi Dan, “A Target Ad Celebrating Inclusion and Representation Hits the Bullseye,” Forbes 

Designsensory, “Webinar: How to Go Beyond Accessibility with Advertising & Disability” [Video]

Disability: In [A non-profit resource for business disability inclusion worldwide]

European Association of Communication Agencies, Guidelines: Portrayal of People with Disabilities in Advertising [PDF]

European Union, Increasing and Improving Portrayal of People with Disabilities in the Media [PDF]

David Gianatasio, “What This Focus Group’s Reaction to People with Disabilities Says about Advertising,” Muse by Clio (Canada) 

Google All In, “Authentically reflecting People with Disabilities” 

Xian Horn, “Is the Beauty Industry Glossing Over Disability?” Allure 

Insider Intelligence, “Disability representation still lackluster in marketing,” eMarketer 

Alexandra Jardine, “Global Brands Back Paralympics Push To ‘Normalize’ Disability,” Ad Age 

Karthik Kashyap, “Disability Inclusion: 5 Brands That Are Truly Making a Difference,” Toolbox (USA)

Matthew Keegan, “No ‘diversity’ without disability: why marketing needs to wake up to the world’s most underrepresented minority group,” Campaign Asia 

Josh Loebner, “Covid-19 Advertising Has Had a Glaring Lack of Disability Inclusion, Ad Week (USA) 

Josh Loebner (USA), “Advertising and Disability Report 2018” [Video]

Josh Loebner (USA), “Advertising and Disability” [Blog]

Elizabeth Mabry, “Disability Representation in the Beauty Industry,” Digital Beauty

Media Access Awards (USA). Employing Disabled Writers, A Best Practices Guide, 2021 [PDF]

Media Smarts (Canada), “Common Portrayals of Persons with Disabilities”

National Action Alliance on Suicide Prevention, Mental Health Media Guide 

Nielsen (USA), “Power Chat: Improving Disability Representation in Advertising” 

Nielsen (USA), “Visibility of Disability: Portrayals of Disability in Advertising” 

NowThis Entertainment, “How Beyoncé & Target Model Jillian Mercado Is Normalizing Disabilities in Fashion” [Video]

The One Club for Creativity, “Discussing Disability Inclusion in Marketing” [Video]

Andrew Pulrang, “How to Avoid ‘Inspiration Porn,’” Forbes

Smart Cities Library, “The Importance of Being a Disability Inclusive Brand” 

Solutions Marketing Group (USA) [A disability marketing agency]

SoulPancake, “Disability | How Do You See Me” [Video]

Starting With Julius (Australia) [Starting With Julius was established as a project in 2013 by people who are committed to promoting the inclusion of people with disability in Australian advertising, media and beyond]

Chris Stokel-Walker, “Disabled representation in advertising is growing” Sifted 

Ed Timke, Disability and Advertising, Advertising and Society Quarterly 

Sydney Tran, “Disability in Ads: Celebration or Commodification?” Psychology Today 

Gail Williamson [Agent for disabled actors, performers, models in Los Angeles]

Lucy Wood, “Media Representation of Disabled People,” Disability Planet website (UK) 

WordStream, “How to Implement Accessibility and Inclusivity in Advertising (+Why It Matters)” 

World Bank, “Disability Inclusion Matters for All” [Video]

Maayan Ziv, “When Advertising Gets Disability Right,” Access Now 

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