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Authenticity matters.

If your market is disabled consumers, read on for some insights into our community.

Autheticity matters. We know our market because we are our market.

Let us help save your company money and social credit by avoiding the branding and messaging mistakes that come from lack of DIRECT, first-hand knowledge.

Adjacent to disabled is not disabled.

The importance of authenticity.
dog wearing lion mane costume
rows of plastic foods
Mainstream marketing and pr agencies and self styled marketing gurus often claim to know the disabled market and how to reach the disabled market due to their own proximity to disabled people.

While it gives some insight, it's always an outsider perspective that will always be slighly out of tune with the disabled consumer, simply because it's not authentic. That lack of authenticity due to lack of direct experience can result in lower than unexpected promotions success levels.

Some Concepts to Consider

Which ramp is accessible?

Neither one of them, it's a trick question.

And it perfectly illustrates the importance of first hand experience.
Both ramps are considered to be "inclusive" by overlaying the able bodied and disabled world, one on top of the other, and the intent was to be welcoming to everyone. While visually interesting and quite pretty, they are completely inaccessible. The result is a testament to "something about us without us", literally cemented into the landscape.

Understanding the market.

Like these ramps, disabled and non-disabled consumers have subtle but profound distinctions.

Our destinations may be the same but our paths are much different.
Merging and overlapping messages for both able bodied and disabled consumers can sometimes miss the mark. It's like mixing chocolate and vanilla in the same bowl. Weird. But chocolate icing on a vanilla cake is just fine. To continue with the ramp analogy as an example, the side by side gives some people options, and the ramp brings everyone up.


A different point of view.

Read The Landscape

Understanding perspective is critical when crafting a message intended to reach disabled consumers and allies.
From a non-disabled perspective, these images could be interchangeable.
They're not.
Understanding perspective is critical when crafting a message intended to reach disabled consumers and allies. What seems to be a great story, concept or image to a non-disabled person is often the exact opposite when viewed from the disabled community.
On the surface, these two images are virtually identical. They both feature a single disabled person sitting in a wheelchair, outdoors, with outstretched arms, gazing at water. They're exactly the same price, have the same licensing features and are in the same collection and search results.

From a non-disabled perspective, they could be interchangeable. They're not. There are subtle but critical differences between them, and understanding what they are can help you avoid having your message misconstrued, or worse, ignored altogether.
The image of the man on the pier is appealing and relatable to a disabled audience. The location is accessible, reachable independently, you can easily see how he got there, without help, he's using a current, modern wheelchair that fits him and the body language is expansive and grand. It's a strong, empowering photo.
The image of the woman on the beach is not relatable to a disabled audience. The "victory over disability" symbolism is a feel good image that speaks to non-disabled people, which is fine if that's your target, but if disabled consumers are your market, this type of portayal won't be successful.

Victory Over Disability

Inspiring and profound or a demeaning trope?

Inspiring and profound or a demeaning trope?

Hint - it's the second one. There's far too much to disability to dismiss it with such a simplistic, shallow concept.
person in a hospital wheelchair on a beach holding balloons
successful disabled woman in modern office
The victory cripple is THE go-to thematic representation of disability in media. It's EVERYWHERE. The reason it's everywhere is because agencies and marketers who are not in the community love it. It gives non-disabled people a conscience-soothing image of freedom and "joie de vivre". It's a happy picture that eases their hearts.

While there are completely valid editorial uses for images like these, in marketing they usually backfire for two main reasons.

First - The technical aspects of the image are everything disabled people avoid. Weird and dangerous places you can't get to, or away from, on your own.. have you ever tried to wheel yourself on sand in a fifty pound hospital wheelchair? If not, you should try it some time.

The other main reason is the entire concept is from an able bodied person's idea of what disabled people are (or should be) about. That a disabled person's goal is to become not disabled, which is understandable on a personal, emotional level. Who wants to be disabled? For some disabled people, that's absolutely a goal especially if it's legitimately attainable. For those who can not achieve that goal, the main focus changes from overcoming the disability itself, to mitigating the damage caused by the state of disability.

The image of the woman on the phone is a more complete concept of overcoming disability without hiding it. She's in a fitted, useable wheelchair, she's well dressed and groomed, and working in a modern, clean, bright, non-medical setting.

The other side of the coin - the empty wheelchair.

So moody and evocative.. the sunflare adds nuance to the the setting, the long shadow hinting at the dawn of a new day free from your disability. You have overcome. Do you feel it?
We don't. This type of imagery has the completely opposite reaction when marketing to disabled people. The lack of any context at all is the issue. When I see images like these, the only thing I wonder is if they're lying on the ground somewhere and their chair rolled away. It's anxiety creating. The same applies to using it to imply accessibility. An empty wheelchair in the middle of a kitchen or bathroom has the same effect.

The picture on the right also has empty wheelchairs and a completely different vibe. The trick is to show an empty chair from face on POV with the location of the empty chair owner known. When a disabled person transfers from their chair, that is the view they have. It creates ownership and a sense of identification.

You can't get there from here.

When activism dresses up in advertising's outfits.

Activism vs Advertising

This is a fine and nuanced point to be aware of when marketing to disabled consumers.

If it's "buy this", it's advertising, if it's "think this", it's activism.
a strip torn from a piece of red paper with the words think this not that revealed
disabled woman purchasing online with a credit card
Activism comes in words and portrayals, where the aim is to change how disabled people are perceived in the world and in media. Activism messages are not normally speaking to the disabled consumer, but are more directed toward the non-disabled community. They can often be summed up with "I don't see you as disabled".

The "I don't see you as disabled" position is a variation of the "victorious disabled person, overcoming their disability" theme. Wrongfully considered noble and welcoming, it's problematic because it removes the life experience of the disabled person, negates the realities of disability and shames the state of disability by virtue of it needing to be unseen. What's intended as a compliment is actually an insult.

The "change how disabled are perceived" concept is also a lofty goal in theory, but often fails in practice, as the aim is to change what already works at the expense of the disabled community, and does the exact opposite by using inappopriate settings, situations and models, changing what was intended to be a spectacular marketing concept into a sad, discordant spectacle.

It's easy to cross that line with good intentions, and the simplest way to avoid doing it is by using established marketing principles. The myth that disabled people want to be spoken to differently to prove a larger point is just that, a myth. If it's "buy this", it's advertising, if it's "think this", it's activism.

Say no to mock stock.

Diversity and Inclusion starts here.

Details Matter

There are very few things more important to a disabled person than their equipment. Oxygen, food, medication..
This is one of those times advertising can enable positive change. Say no to mock stock.
disabled woman in white ultralight wheelchair
female actor seated in a wheelchair examines a wedding gown on a manniquin
A person's disabled equipment is life changing. It's also jaw-droppingly expensive, and probably took years to save for, or convince an insurance adjuster that you really can't find a job if you can't even get to the kitchen because you don't have a wheelchair and your legs don't work. There is an entire industry that exists only by ensuring disabled people never succeed.

Images that show actors smiling and posing in cheap hospital chairs or with thrift shop crutches are damaging to disabled people in a profound way, since most people can't discern the differences in wheelchairs or why there are so many types. That lack of information makes it difficult to get the equipment a person needs to thrive, not just barely survive.

The social impact of this small change, that has literally no additional cost, is immeasurable.

Normalizing modern adaptive equipment in marketing, while shunning damaging staged stock images will help disabled people in all aspects of life.

Some examples

They're easy to spot when you can see them side by side. The first three are actual disabled people in everyday chairs. The last 3 are mock stock. Some things to look for include the width of the chair itself. Wheelchairs are like ski boots, the tighter the better. Also note the position of the legs, are they tidy with feet together, or all askew and gangly looking? Same with the arm position. Is it down and natural, or sticking out like chicken wings trying to reach past the high sides and wide chair. And note the seat - wheelchair users ALWAYS have a cushion. High backs make it hard to push and rental settings foot rests cause high knees with leg support.
I can help with photo editing, as well as production of your perfect image, video or other project. Contact me any time to discuss your needs.

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