Monday, November 12, 2007

Who Should Represent People with Disabilities in Advertising?

We have all heard the cliché, “There’s no such thing as a stupid question.” However, the title of this piece provides a pretty good argument against the often-used phrase.

Why would there be any question about a person with a disability representing a person with a disability in an advertisement. Lest you have any doubt, let me ask these questions as a contrast:

  • Who should represent African-Americans in ads?
  • Who should represent women in ads?
  • Who should represent Asian or Latino in ads?

I cannot imagine anyone saying that the above minorities should have anyone other than members of their own community portraying them; not someone made up to look like them, or pretending to be them. Not today.

Yet, we still see ads like this one that recently appeared in the Joliet Herald-News.

Description of Graphic

None of the people pictured have a disability in the picture. The guy with the white cane is sighted; the guy in the wheelchair and the one using the walker are ambulatory without assistance; the guy using the TTY does not have difficulty using the phone. They are local politicians who should fire their campaign managers for bad judgment.

Who thought it would be a good idea to have able-bodied people representing someone with a disability?

Here's a suggestion. If you want to promote accessibility at your particular entity, show people with disabilities using your services. Or show the men pictured with someone who actually uses a white cane, wheelchair, walker or TTY.

Graphic 2: Description

The ad, for all its good intentions, is very inappropriate. I have no doubt that the people wanted to do something good. They are part of a noble cause… accessible businesses. However, their lack of sensitivity about appropriate representations is way off the mark.

Graphic 3 Description:

The picture is wrong on so many levels. It has no people of color and no women AND no people with disabilities. It looks like something straight out of the 1950s, not the 21st century.

This ad says to me, “We really can’t show real people with disabilities, because we should not have to look at them.” If not that, then this: “Only people who look a certain way are OK for advertisements… the rest of you should go hide.”

People with disabilities are as attractive and unattractive as the general population. They are quite capable of representing themselves in any ad. I know several people in the Joliet area that are at least as attractive as the older white men in the ad; and they represent diversity of gender, color and disability.

If the Accessible Cities Alliance does not feel a commitment to showing people with disabilities as important parts of their community (important enough to appear in an advertisement), they should reconsider their commitment to people with disabilities. If they do, then they should denounce the ad for its misrepresentations.

The racist pictures peppered through this article were once acceptable. I look forward to the time when the general population realizes ableist pictures of posers with disability fit into the same category.

Description: a newspaper ad reads:

Got Access? We do. You Should Too.

Pictured under the headline are four older white men:

  • Russ Slinkard, Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce and Industry. He is carrying a white cane.
  • Larry Walsh, Will County Executive. He is sitting in a wheelchair.
  • Tim Roolf, First Midwest Bank. He standing in front of a walker.
  • Jim Shapard, City of Joliet. He is standing facing the camera with his fingers on the keyboard of a TTY.

Under the picture it reads: By 2010, it’s likely that one in three Americans with have a disability. That’s a lot of purchasing power. Is your business ready?

We encourage business owners and property managers to create and promote full access for consumers with disabilities. What does that mean? It means providing equal access to parking, entrances, goods and services and restrooms. Consider how you can increase the value of your business and expand yoru customer base.

The Accessible Cities Alliance is a broad coalition of local leaders and disability advocates working to create access and opportunity. ACA offers valuable information and resources. If you need assistance, let us help. If you offer full access, let us know and then make sure your customers know too.

Good access is good business

Accessible Cities Alliance

Promoting disability compliance in the business community.

815-729-0162 v

815-729-2085 tty

A message sponsored by The HeraldNews
Back to article.

Graphic 2. Description

Black and white photo of a white actor dressed up as Charlie Chan, an Asian character in movies from the 1930s through the 1950s. Back to article.

Graphic 3. Description

A black and white photo of Amos and Andy. It is two white actors dressed in blackface. Their representation of African-Americans was wildly popular on the radio and in movies. Back to article.


Jeri said...

To play the devil's advocate, I'm guessing that the use of able bodied people is to remind everyone that anyone can become disabled. Wheelchairs, etc. aren't just for 'other' people, they're for anyone who can benefit from their use. Granted, they could have pictured a more diverse group of people.

Anonymous said...

Check out this disability-related article from today's Washington Post:

Anonymous said...

I can believe someone would start off compairing a black or a woman to a about racial discrimation