HomedisabilityWhy pay attention to disability in advertising?

During today’s #AXSChat on twitter, someone brought this ad up. (You can view it below, but there’s more information in the link.)

I write primarily about invisible disabilities, because those of us with them face subtly different challenges than those with visible disabilities, but I also care about how all forms of disability are portrayed.

I’ve talked about disability in stories before, and given tips about how to write it well, but I hadn’t really given much thought to how it’s used in advertisement.

Ads are almost more important than stories, because everyone sees them at one point or another. They’re on the television, on web pages, in newspapers, magazines, and buses. Billboards line our roads, shoving messages at people driving by.

There’s no escaping them unless you stay home, view no media, ignore the mail and don’t listen to the radio. Oh, and don’t look out the window if you live on a busy street, because they’re on the sides of buses and trucks, too.

Disability is rarely addressed in these ads, unless they’re for a charity, therapeutic institution or as inspiration.

What stands out the most about this Honey Maid commercial is that the fact the aunt is in a wheelchair isn’t the focus. The focus is on how she’s teaching her niece how to make that snack, while acknowledging the disability’s presence as a normal part of moving around.

There’s value in the idea of focusing on what the person is doing instead of how many obstacles they face. At our cores, we’re just like everyone else, and that’s what needs to be acknowledged more than the fact we need accommodations.

That said, accommodations still need to be easily accessed, but if you think about it, “normal” people use accommodations, too.

Almost everyone uses calculators to do math. The voice command feature on smart phones is used just as often by people who don’t necessarily need it as by those who do. Able bodied people use elevators, although they could take the stairs. Even step stools can be seen as accommodations when you can’t reach something on a high shelf.

Original tweet here.

Like Sarah said in the above tweet, everyone does have weaknesses, and many of them could easily be seen as disabilities in some shape or form.

Part of our problem as a culture is the urge to shield ourselves from any kind of perceived weakness. We don’t want to see anyone struggling, and we don’t want to struggle ourselves.

Sometimes, that leads to bullying, because we’re afraid others will see in us what we so revile. So, we distance ourselves by degrading someone who embodies that feared characteristic.

Most of the time, though, the attitude leads to erasure. I rarely ever see disability acknowledged in other civil rights movements, despite the fact it crosses all demographics. It’s rarely acknowledged in general medical offices or in educational material.

It is at least getting included more in advertisement and the media, but it’s still largely ignored, despite the fact it’s so common.

How do we, as consumers, encourage good representation?

Well, the thing that speaks the loudest in our capitalist economy is money, so why not buy from companies that include disabled people as equal to those without disabilities?

As for now? I’m craving some graham crackers, and I have a coupon for Honey Maid just waiting to be used. There be s’mores in my future.

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