People with disabilities
Nearly 15% of the world's population experiences some form of disability – yet historically, the portrayal of people with disabilities in marketing has rendered them all but invisible. Nothing about us without us expresses the conviction that people with disabilities must always be included from the beginning of any planning process and should never simply be an after-thought. In keeping with this conviction, the insights that follow were built with input from community partners and may be used as a starting point to help create marketing that positively and authentically represents people with disabilities – including, but more importantly, beyond key moments like Disability Employment Awareness Month campaigns.
Developed in partnership with Disability:IN
What is disability-inclusive marketing and why is it important?
Disability-inclusive marketing is built on the premise that marketing should represent and be accessible to all people with or without disabilities. Not only is including people with disabilities the right thing to do, but it also makes marketing more authentic. Around the world, over 1 billion people live with some form of disability. In the U.S., 20.3 million families have at least one member with a disability and one in four adults live with a disability. Ultimately, most people will live with some form of disability in their life. Furthermore, in the U.S., the total disposable income for working-age people with disabilities is about $490 billion. This is similar to other significant market segments such as Black and Hispanic Americans. This market size doubles when considering family members, caregivers, and others (American Institute of Research). Authentic marketing can do more to represent the wide range of abilities and neurodiversity in the world around us.
What is disability?
There is no single way to define disability – it’s an umbrella term with different meanings across different people. One thing is certain: the world is filled with people who have a range of apparent and non-apparent disabilities. The ADA defines a person with a disability as someone who has “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment.” Yet many people don’t define themselves by or feel limited because of their disability — instead view disability as a strength.
Be thoughtful about word choice, but don’t let it derail the story
There is no common language about how to address disability. Some people advocate for the use of people-first language (e.g., people with disabilities), while others push for identity-first language (e.g., disabled people). Work closely with individuals by asking and using their preferences. While language is important, don’t let it be so intimidating that you avoid the conversation altogether.
Reach out for help from the right people and groups
Lived, underrepresented perspectives should always be included at the onset and throughout the creative process. When creating marketing content that features people with disabilities, reach out to internal employee resource groups or other community groups of people with disabilities for consultation. Realize that these consultations are volunteer-based, and avoid tokenizing people. There are many organizations like Disability:IN who can provide their perspectives, but if you’re getting help or resources from an external source, be sure to acknowledge their contribution appropriately with recognition, compensation, etc.
Empower self-representation in roles
Disability itself is incredibly diverse
Present people with disabilities in a positive, empowered way
Show people with disabilities in everyday situations – in school, at work, in the community. Individuals with disabilities should be expressing themselves, rather than having another person (such as a caregiver or family member) form opinions for them. Note that having a translator or ASL interpreter is fine, as long as the thoughts expressed are those of the person with disabilities. While the goal is to have the people with disabilities be the main focus of the work, it’s also OK to include an individual in a supporting role that they’d play in real life (e.g., a friend, a spouse, or child).
Represent the intersectionality of disability with other dimensions of diversity
Disability intersects with all types of demographic characteristics. Living with a disability is just one aspect of an individual’s identity. When portraying people with disabilities, consider other dimensions like race, gender, age, socioeconomic status, religion, etc. It’s also important to consider that not everyone with a disability will primarily self-identify as disabled. Some may not self-identify as disabled at all.
It’s not just about casting or content. It’s also about making sure everyone can access the work.
Accessibility is key to disability-inclusive marketing. Be mindful of whether people can consume an advertisement or interact with an interface. When only one part of this equation is addressed, inclusivity efforts can feel half-baked and people may feel left out.
Build work without stereotypes
Judy Heumann, a disability rights activist, provided thoughtful feedback on a Google Doodle celebrating the polio vaccine work of Dame Jean Macnamara: “...it is unfortunate that the rendering of her work has a child who is wearing braces and using crutches looking at herself without her braces or crutches. Post-polio survivors have fought for decades for people to see us with our braces, crutches, wheelchairs, and ventilators and value us for who we are. These pieces of technology have enabled us to fight for our rights as disabled people, winning victories such as the signing of the 504 regulations, the passage of the ADA, and the adoption of the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities.”