Best Practices for Advertising
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):
- 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.
- 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.”
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 Director of Strategy for Designsensory, 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]
Disability: In [A non-profit resource for business disability inclusion worldwide]
Solutions Marketing Group (USA) [A disability marketing agency]
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]
Gail Williamson [Agent for disabled actors, performers, models in Los Angeles]