The following is an excerpt from our Disability Marketing Guide. It is written from the perspective of our director, Ryan Willson.
When I was younger, I followed Shaquille O’Neal as much as I could. He was a star in my eyes, and a star basketball player. I dreamt day and night that I would one day play alongside him. My dad and I would play pick-up basketball games in our driveway, and I would imitate Shaq’s moves.
As I watched Shaq play on TV, I saw something. I saw kids who looked like me, had the same disability as me, but they were shown in hospitals, wrapped in bandages like a mummy, plugged into a series of devices, and surrounded by doctors, nurses and loved ones. Yuck! I know exactly what that is like. I have been “that” kid, and I didn’t need a single reminder of these very unsatisfying times.
I know these commercials are important. They help raise money for crucial charities and hospitals; however, the narratives are not a reflection of the world. Disabled people do, indeed, play basketball; we have friends; we have doctorates; and we have lives that rarely involve hospitals whatsoever.
When I was following Shaq, I would have appreciated seeing that kid with my disability play basketball in his wheelchair, draining big-game buckets. That would have added a little fuel to my inner desire to be Shaq.
Marie Dagenais-Lewis, an operations manager with Diversability, added this, as well: “Disabled people should be naturally featured in our marketing, so we can subliminally fight the generations of time spent hiding disability from society. When we have disability authentically represented, we are showing disabled children everywhere that we want them to be a part of our world. It also gives disabled children a chance to daydream about different careers, as they will see themselves reflected in the characters on screen.”
Disability advocate Theresa Mabe stated: “Disabled people shouldn’t just be featured in marketing, but also given more of a voice when it comes to how things are marketed with ‘us’ in mind. So often there are examples of representation or inclusion that miss the mark because, while well-intentioned, it comes from a non-disabled lens about their assumptions of our needs, wants, or interests.
“Including disabled people in marketing materials also helps people think through what it means to have an accessible and inclusive … environment.
“From the content side…it just helps me feel more normal. And valued,” Mabe told me. “That my needs are being considered, and that the existence of disabled people isn’t something to hide like society has historically done. It shows that we matter and that people want us to show up as we are.”
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