Wheelchair Basketball players in the Guinness advert

How are disabled people represented in advertising?

Channel 4 announced last week that they’re giving away £1m of advertising airtime for brands which feature disabled people during the Paralympics.

We can’t wait to see the winning ad. Hopefully it gets viewers, broadcasters and advertisers to think more about how disabled people are depicted in adverts.

Frequently, disabled people are absent from advertising. Despite there being around 11 million disabled people in the UK, you can count the number of disabled people shown on TV adverts right now on one hand. It’s fantastic that Channel 4 are doing this, but is it telling that they feel the need to?

When disabled people are portrayed, it’s often to highlight their inspirational story and how they’ve overcome it – or to create an emotional reaction from the audience.

Many people refer to this as ‘inspiration porn’ – used to inspire or motivate (often non-disabled) people to achieve more (and buy more things). As Charlie Swinbourne noted in the Guardian, “Disabled people aren’t here to inspire you“:

“The biggest problem with inspiration porn is that although it shows people overcoming disability, it often means disabled people are not shown as being complex human beings, with more to us than the sum of our disability alone.”

Is representation improving?

Scope For Change and disability campaigner Sarah Troke thinks representation of disabled people in the media is improving:

“I think that representation of disabled people in the media is definitely improving! Channel 4 has done an amazing job of challenging perceptions of disability and the awkwardness around disability –  especially with The Last Leg.”

“It’s so important that people with disabilities are featured in the mainstream media and advertising – particularly if they are showing them as independent and capable of participating in everyday life –  not only objects of charity.”

Sarah thinks that the way disabled people are depicted in the media can have a huge impact on the general public’s perceptions: “One of the most important things in the disability rights movement is challenging negative perceptions and attitudes about people with disabilities. The media is the most effective way of reaching huge audiences and challenging people’s perceptions.”

So with that in mind we’ve tracked down some recent adverts we think show disability in a positive light. They’re far from perfect –  but hopefully serve as stimulation for any brands hoping to  take on Channel 4’s advertising challenge.

Smirnoff Presents Chris Fonseca: We’re Open #deafdancers

You might have seen this ad on your Facebook feed last month. We like that it’s fun, inclusive and dynamic and doesn’t treat Chris any differently from the rest of the dancers. Not sure what all this has to with Vodka however.

Guinness: Wheelchair basketball

Guinness have a history of creating innovative and memorable adverts, and made this TV ad in 2013. It’s a bit ‘inspirational’ but should be applauded for showing a disabled person kicking ass on the court.

You Said We Did – Barclays Talking ATM

This is great. It’s not emotionally manipulative, and doesn’t have sad music or an ‘inspiring’ message. It’s funny and functional and shows how Barclays are improving their products for disabled people.

AXE – Find Your Magic

AXE have got a lot of attention from this advert released in Janaury 2016. It’s refreshing to see a deodorant brand celebrating difference (and indeed disability) in depicting masculinity in an inclusive fashion.

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Hearing Hands – Touching Ad By Samsung

This ad from Samsung has had over 13m views on Youtube, and it’s clear it’s had an emotional effect from reading the comments. It’s uplifting and well-intentioned, but is it using disability just for emotional effect?

What do you think of these adverts and the way they treat disability? Seen any adverts that float your boat or grind your gears? Let us know in the comments below. 

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