In the 2021 State of Representation in Marketing study, consumers responded to the question, “what do you wish brands knew about representation?” One person responded, “How much it can effect someone and their feelings about themselves when they never see themselves represented. Like they are not important.”
Another person said, “The damage they do by underrepresentation.” And another person shared, “Brands must be aware of the power and impact of featuring members of underrepresented groups in their marketing.”
When Crazy Rich Asians and Marvel’s Shang-Chi came out, there was a lot of commentary on social media from people within the Asian community who shared how much seeing those films instilled a sense of pride in their heritage.
July is Disability Pride Month, where brands have the opportunity to join in and honor the history, achievements, experiences, and struggles of people within the community. With many dimensions of diversity, it isn’t uncommon for people who aren’t part of the dominant group to have a complicated relationship with what makes them different. Representation helps with those complicated feelings by helping people see images of people who look like them doing important things.
That imagery reinforces not only what is possible for them, but serves to instill a sense of pride in not only what makes them different, but their community as a whole as well.
One way brands can do their part in elevating the disability community and instilling that sense of pride all year long is to increase disability representation in media and marketing. One study showed that disability representation in media is at 3%. And across the board in marketing, diversity representation doesn’t come close to representing the 15% of people worldwide who have a disability.
2 Tips for increasing disability representation
KR Liu is the head of brand accessibility at Google. Liu told me that a big focus area for the brand is to change people’s perception of disability. A big way they do this is by focusing on storytelling about people within the community “talking about the impact, the human stories, who we are, what we’re all about, what we care about, what we’re passionate about, and, and really bringing that to the forefront.”
KR explained that this is especially important, because there are so many layers to people in the disability community. She noted, “disability is not a monolith. There’s so many sides to disability, who we are, what we represent, what we care about, who, how we connect, from age, race, sexual orientation and so on.”
As you think about how to authentically represent people from the disability community, be sure to go beyond just popping in imagery of disabled people. Where possible, take the time to tell a story of the people you’re featuring. Here’s an example of how Google leaned into storytelling in their content.
In April, when British Vogue featured five people with disabilities on five different covers, they also told more in-depth stories of nineteen people with disabilities on the pages within the issue.
Another area to focus on with disability representation is elevating people with disabilities as experts and on your team. Of course, all disabilities aren’t visible, and everyone isn’t always comfortable expressing their disability.
But in the cases where people are comfortable, ensure that you create a safe space for people with disabilities who are leading the charge and are making a difference in both your brand and your industry to acknowledge their disability.
Representation in media and marketing are important, however it is also important for people from the disability community to see themselves represented and making an impact with their professional achievements.
KR Liu, mentioned earlier, talks openly about her disability and her diagnosis of severe hearing loss at the age of three.
Ludmila Praslova is the director of research and professor in industrial and organizational design at Vanguard University. She writes for many professional publications sharing her expertise on building inclusive workplaces. In her writing, she also acknowledges that she is a member of the autistic community.
Lauren Ridloff is a Tony-nominated actress who has starred in the series The Walking Dead, and in the Marvel film Eternals. She is also deaf. She’s talked often about the impact of representation of deaf actors on the screen, but expresses a desire and need to have more of that representation in other important roles within the industry, “I feel that with more representation working behind the camera, the stories that are told in television, film and stage would become more intriguing, truthful and thought provoking.”
Having more representation not just in your marketing campaigns, but also with the talent and experts who are essential to your success behind the scenes is an important aspect of disability representation that supports disability pride.