This year marked the 30th anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act, cornerstone civil rights legislation for people with disabilities. It was also the 75th year celebrating National Disability Employment Awareness Month, a key way for employers to understand the importance of creating inclusive hiring practices.
In marketing, brands have continued to arc forward, both internally in the way they approach talent, and externally in how they show up in the world. While there is progress in both areas, there is still substantial room to grow and an opportunity to create real depth of representation and understanding.
“We can’t just consider disability from an accessibility standpoint, or showing talent in an ad,” said Josh Loebner, director of strategy, diversity, equity and inclusion at Designsensory and a member of Adweek’s DEI Council. “This isn’t about checking a box, but goes all the way back to the talent pipeline and recruiting more people with disabilities into advertising.”
In Loebner’s view, while DEI is critically important, he believes that reframing the marketing parlance not only addresses issues but creates an even wider opportunity for marketers and advertising practitioners to understand how to approach the practice.
“It’s really about the creative brief, and how that initial creative stage of the process for developing [work] where diversity, equity and inclusion—and disability—can be brought into that early,” he said, noting that an acronym he prefers is IDEAS.
“It stands for ‘inclusive, diverse, equitable, accessible successes,’” said Loebner. “What’s important is the ‘successes,’ because, all too often, brand advertisers think of disability, and sometimes diversity, as more corporate citizenship, as opposed to the business case for diversity and disability inclusion.”
Loebner concedes that brands, even those making progress, may make mistakes, but that “we have to move forward to welcome disability.”
“There’s a phrase in the disability community: ‘nothing about us without us,’” said Loebner. “And that can apply to any minority group. In the creative process, if you don’t want to make mistakes, invite someone with a disability to consult and let them be part of it.”
Even without a Paralympics this year due to the pandemic, Loebner said that brands created strong work throughout the year. Below are 10 standouts that he shared.
Microsoft: Surface advertising
The latest Microsoft Surface commercial features a family using American Sign Language, seamlessly integrating their joy of using the device alongside clips of other families. It’s the latest in a string of disability inclusion initiatives by the software giant. While few companies disclose the number of employees with disabilities, Microsoft is one of the first major corporations to share that 6.1% of its employees identify as disabled.
“The great thing about it was that those people who were using ASL weren’t segmented and siloed to say that this device is dedicated to people with disabilities. Rather, those people with disabilities that were in the commercial were enjoying the product just like anybody else. And that really is what helps the commercial show that people with disabilities authentically use products just like anyone else, and it gives it kind of a tone of, of truth and timeliness,” said Loebner, who points to the brand as one of the most committed to accessibility and disability.
Loebner also stated that Microsoft ensures that accessibility and disability inclusion are deeply integrated into its software products. Microsoft broke previous ground with its Xbox Adaptive campaign.
Comcast/NBCU: Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
The 2020 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade had to be reimagined due to the pandemic, which gave organizers and broadcasters a chance to incorporate new techniques. For the first time in the parade’s broadcast history, NBCUniversal provided live audio descriptions on the Secondary Audio Program channel. This audio allows people who are blind or have low vision to hear additional descriptions of the events taking place on-screen outside the hosts or stars.
Kyle O’Brien is a freelance writer based in Jim Thorpe, Pa.