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Blind, Commercial, Visually Impaired

A Blind Girl Shares Her Vision During The Academy Awards

Disability in advertising took center stage during one of the most-watched live events of the year, the Academy Awards. Comcast debuted a 60-second ad which focuses on 7-year-old Emily, born blind, describing what she sees in her mind when watching her favorite movie, “The Wizard of Oz.”

Some of Hollywood’s top directors, set designers and make-up artists worked to bring her vision to life.  The voice over for the commercial is provided by two-time Academy Award winner Robert Redford.

Comcast shared in a press release that the national campaign launched during the 2015 Academy Awards called “Emily’s Oz” that is intended to spark an even bigger conversation about how people with disabilities enjoy entertainment. “We want to create opportunities for people who love film and television, but who might not have the opportunity to experience it to its fullest,” said Tom Wlodkowski, who was hired as Vice President of Audience in 2012 to focus on the usability of the company’s products and services by people with disabilities.  “By bringing the talking guide to as many people as possible, we can help to bridge that gap and make entertainment just as compelling, captivating and fun for people with a visual disability as it is for anyone else.” Comcast is partnering with organizations dedicated to serving people with visual disabilities to bring the company’s new voice guidance technology to more people.  The “talking guide” reads aloud selections like program titles, network names and time slots as well as DVR and On Demand settings, giving users the freedom to independently explore and navigate thousands of shows and movies.

Goodby, Silverstein & Partners’ New York office was the ad agency behind the work and in a recent Adweek article GS&P’s executive creative director, Paul Caiozzo, shared, “We’re really proud of this one. It’s the first big national spot to come from this office, and it’s great to have this work debut on a big stage like the Oscars. It’s a beautiful moment for GS&P New York. It’s not often you get to do something that feels meaningful on a level far beyond advertising. It definitely shows how entertainment truly is for everyone.”

The microsite brings together immersive behind-the-scenes stories and extends the message in a unique way, and here’s a video of Emily sharing more of her story.

As a blind and visually impaired person I let people know that I see things from a different perspective. It truly is amazing to know that during the Oscars, Emily’s message was seen and heard by millions of people across the country, hopefully giving everyone the opportunity to see things from a different perspective.

Anderson Cooper gives heartfelt thanks after winning GLAAD award.
Media Advocacy

Leading the conversation. Shaping the media narrative. Changing the culture. That’s GLAAD at work.

Words and images matter…for people with disabilities and all minorities. I was able to have a wonderfully insightful interview with Seth Adam, Director of Communications for GLAAD, the leading media advocacy and minority rights organization for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. Throughout the interview Seth shared how personal convictions, passion, advocacy and awareness leads to change. One of the main reasons I wanted to share a conversation with Seth was the organization’s annual report on media and inclusion which incorporates people with disabilities. Each year, GLAAD spearheads the Where We Are on TV report which analyzes the overall diversity of primetime scripted series regulars and looks at the number of characters encompassing LGBT, race and ethnicity, and people with disability on broadcast, cable networks and streaming networks.

The mission statement of the organization speaks to commitment and conviction: GLAAD rewrites the script for LGBT equality. As a dynamic media force, GLAAD tackles tough issues to shape the narrative and provoke dialogue that leads to cultural change. GLAAD protects all that has been accomplished and creates a world where everyone can live the life they love.

Here’s a video that shares an overview of GLAAD and what the organization achieves.

After I heard more from Seth about GLAAD’s overall mission and purpose I realize that a similar organization focusing on inclusion of people with disability within the media could be a powerful ally for this group. Consider the graphic from GLAAD’s website and if it was people with disabilities.


As GLAAD’s Director of Communications, Seth drives the organization’s media strategy and bridges impactful partnerships with some of the world’s most well-known brands. His writing and commentary have appeared in news sources including The Associated Press, The New York Times, USA Today, TIME, and many more.

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 17:  Seth Adam, director of Communications at GLAAD rings the NASDAQ Opening Bell at NASDAQ MarketSite on October 17, 2014 in New York City.  (Photo by Rob Kim/Getty Images)

NEW YORK, NY – OCTOBER 17: Seth Adam, director of Communications at GLAAD rings the NASDAQ Opening Bell at NASDAQ MarketSite on October 17, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Rob Kim/Getty Images)

Here now is the full interview with Seth Adam.

Can you share a bit about your background and why you’re passionate about GLAAD’s efforts and your role at the organization?

GLAAD works to shape the narrative about the LGBT community in the media, bringing stories of triumph and trial to people across the world in order to build support for equality. This has a real impact on policy decisions and public opinion; for some, the only LGBT people they know are those they meet on TV, at the movies, or when reading the newspaper. What renews my passion is knowing that, because of  GLAAD’s work and the media’s ability to impact people all over the world in new ways, a storyline or campaign of ours can give LGBT youth hope and confidence that they can succeed simply by being themselves.

Within what I’ve seen relating to advertising and disability we’re at the initial stages of greater inclusion of people with disabilities. Can you share some background on GLAAD’s beginnings more than 25 years ago and the initial milestones your organization was able to accomplish?

GLAAD was founded in response to the grossly defamatory coverage of the gay community during the height of the HIV/AIDS crisis. Today, GLAAD’s first milestones seem like such standard, everyday parts of news and entertainment, but in the 1980s, GLAAD had to start from square-one with media outlets to increase and improve representation of LGBT people. As an organization and as a culture, we’ve made so many advances in terms of how the LGBT community is portrayed, but it had to start with something as seemingly simple, yet desperately important, as recognizing that we exist. Unfortunately, that work still isn’t done, as we advocate every day for transgender and bisexual members of our community to have their identities recognized, and for LGBT people to be portrayed with respect.

What was the climate like at the time and how were gay, lesbian and other minorities represented in media?

In one word: dehumanizing. Such defamatory media coverage made it even harder to get the general public and lawmakers to take the LGBT community’s needs seriously—to get the necessary funding for research and healthcare. It was clear then, just as it is now, that legal equality and cultural equality are integrally tied.

What is the climate like today and how are gay, lesbian and other minorities represented in media?

The climate is often inconsistent, which shows that media advocacy is just as relevant and necessary as ever. For instance, “Orange is the New Black” and “Transparent” have outstanding and complex representations of transgender women. At the same time, the news media often refuses to recognize trans people’s identities or the hurdles they encounter in everyday life. The same can be said for how bisexual, lesbian, and gay people are represented. The multidimensional representations that do exist serve tremendously in educating people about the LGBT community and building support for equality. Overall, of course, LGBT representation has increased exponentially, certainly in quantity and largely in quality as well.

How do you see GLAAD’s role today and what are some major goals of the organization for the future?

GLAAD continues shaping the narrative so that positive changes are made for people who are LGBT, and we also work to protect the advances that have been made towards equality. What we’re seeing throughout the country is a gap between policies in various places that support equality, and cultural acceptance of LGBT people. GLAAD is dedicated to closing that gap so that everyone can experience full social acceptance and legal equality, no matter what state they live in.

Can you share some insight into GLAAD’s Where We Are On TV report and the significance of it?

GLAAD’s annual Where We Are on TV report analyzes the overall diversity of primetime scripted series regulars on broadcast networks and looks at the number of LGBT characters on cable networks for the upcoming TV season. GLAAD is always in communication with leaders in the media to make sure the LGBT community is represented thoughtfully and diversely. GLAAD’s annual TV reports, WWAT and the Network Responsibility Index, set an important benchmark for quality representation of the LGBT community. They’re also valuable tools for demonstrating how much work is left to be done, as less than 4% of series regulars on primetime scripted series are LGBT.

Among the minorities highlighted within the report, data is shared on people with disabilities and their inclusion within TV shows and media. What trends have you seen within this minority group and what are your thoughts about it’s future inclusion within media?

When it comes to primetime broadcast scripted series, characters with disabilities have been hovering around 1% of all regular characters. This season looked more promising than others with every broadcast network featuring at least one regular character with a disability. FOX was leading the way at the beginning of the season, but the cancellation of “Red Band Society” means those numbers will once again fall. Networks and producers must pay close attention to diversity when creating new series, and that includes people with disabilities. It will allow them to create new and interesting storylines that more accurately reflect the world around us.

Since the blog’s focus is on advertising could you share GLAAD’s efforts in that media segment?

GLAAD constantly works with corporations and agencies to ensure that LGBT people are also represented in advertising. This past year alone has seen a significant increase in LGBT-inclusive ads, especially those targeting mainstream audiences. What’s clear is that equality is now important to a company’s bottom line, and it’s important that’s reflected in its marketing to consumers.

What would you suggest from a media advocacy standpoint for people with disability to rally media influencers and decision makers around the the opportunity to increase visibility and voice for people with disabilities?

When it comes to using entertainment media to increase the visibility of the LGBT community, the findings of GLAAD’s reports analyzing the quantity and quality of diverse representations were key. Presenting network executives with hard data on the images of the LGBT community on their airwaves was a critical way to give them concrete figures on why they needed to do better. Tracking the quantity and quality of people with disabilities in the media would be a great way to start having impactful conversations with networks, and then making that data public will help keep them accountable and move the needle.


Commercial, Super Bowl

One Bold Choice is Empowering

Super Bowl XLIX was a historic event for so many reasons including advertising and disability taking center stage in, what I would consider, the best ads of the evening. The title of this post comes from the hashtags of Toyota’s and Microsoft’s campaigns, and combined, share exactly what each brand’s chief marketing officer and agency creative director did when they made the decision to be inclusive. One bold choice is empowering.

Microsoft #empowering

One of Microsoft’s 2015 Super Bowl spots focused on Empowering Us All. Microsoft’s description on YouTube shares, “Born missing the tibia and fibula bones in both of his legs, six year old Braylon O’Neill is now thriving and playing sports with the help of Microsoft technology.”

Toyota #OneBoldChoice

I’ve been a huge fan of Amy Purdy’s for several years, and you read my blog you’ve seen her in several earlier posts. Toyota’s YouTube description shares, “Amy Purdy triumphs to the iconic words of Muhammad Ali. To save her life, her dad had to make some life changing decisions. She then went on to win a medal in Sochi and dance in front of millions. Nothing can stop Amy Purdy. #OneBoldChoice”

According to USA Today’s Ad Meter, “Paralympian Amy Purdy stars in this Toyota Camry commercial that is sure to get you fired up. The minute-long spot, which will air during the first quarter of Super Bowl XLIX, chronicles a typical day for the bronze medal-winning snowboarder/author/Dancing With the Stars contestant. (In reality, it’s anything but typical.)

It feels like a great training montage from a sports movie. But what makes the ad even better is the voice in the background. Saatchi & Saatchi, the agency that created it, used a snippet of a speech by Muhammad Ali to narrate the ad. Leading up to his fight against the heavily favored George Foreman in 1974, Ali delivered the short soliloquy during a press conference at the Waldorf Astoria in New York.”

Having no depth perception, I was always a bit timid to try out team sports and definitely never considered football. But being in advertising, there’s a whole different game played out during the Super Bowl that draws me in. For those in the advertising industry reading this post, what one bold choice can you make that is empowering?

JCPenney Displays Real Size Mannequins in its Manhattan Mall Sto
In-Store Marketing

Mannequins Are Moving Towards Inclusion

I’m a fan of wax museums not because I can stand next to a likeness of Al Roker or David Beckham, but because I share a unique bond with the figures in that we all have glass eyes. These sculpted interpretations of icons are painstakingly modeled to incorporate the finest details and real-world physical differences unique to each individual.

But if we transition from the inside of a museum and wax figures to in-store marketing with mannequins, where does disability fit in?

Studies have shown that in-store purchase intent increases considerably for apparel and accessories placed on mannequins…which are often stylized in a way that strives for the most idealized self – fit, thin, young and what most people would consider perfect.

From the Dove Real Beauty campaign to the Cheerios’ commercial featuring a mixed race family we’re seeing more inclusion of real people, situations, diversity and disability in commercials and advertising, but does this growing inclusion movement within marketing translate to the in-store shopping experience and mannequins?

JC Penney recently unveiled how they are taking a step towards reflecting a broader diversity in their mannequin appearances. According to a recent NBC News article:

Shoppers in New York City are celebrating five unique mannequins in the store windows of JCPenney. The national retailer is showcasing the mannequins, including the model of a woman in a wheelchair, a man with dwarfism and a double leg amputee, which were specially designed for TODAY’s “Love Your Selfie” series.

The mannequins are modeled after:

  • Dawna Callahan, who uses a wheelchair because of paralysis;
  • Neil Duncan, a former Army paratrooper who lost parts of both legs in Afghanistan;
  • Ricardo Gil, who has dwarfism;
  • Desiree Hunter, a 6-1 1/2 basketball player;
  • and Beth Ridgeway, a plus-size mother.

The Today Show and JC Penney were inspired by a video of mannequins modeled on people with disabilities that went viral last year. Pro Infirmis, a Swiss nonprofit dedicated to helping people with disabilities, created several real-world sculpted mannequins to reflect bodies of people with physical disabilities for “Because Who is Perfect? Get Closer”, a project to raise awareness of the lack of representation of people with disabilities in fashion and retail.

Could changing the appearance of mannequins change the way we feel about ourselves? YES. Marketers have an opportunity to embrace diversity and disability in the design of their mannequins to better promote greater awareness, inclusion and respect for broader customer segments.

Down Syndrome

The Gift of Inclusion

Like so many other boys and girls this time of year, Izzy Bradley is excited about the prospect of opening presents, but what’s unique about two-year-old Izzy’s story is that her enthusiasm, captured in a Target ad has now been shared by millions of people.

Target flyer featuring Izzy Bradley

Target flyer featuring Izzy Bradley

The biggest gift that Izzy Bradley is promoting in the Target ad isn’t the Zaney Zoo activity cube, but because Izzy has Down Syndrome, she’s able to share the gift of inclusion for families of children with disabilities. So few advertisers are willing to encourage greater visibility and awareness, but Target saw an opportunity to do just that.

According to WCCS, CBS Minnesota, Target contacted the Down Syndrome Diagnosis Network asking for pictures of kids with disabilities who’d be interested in modeling. CBS coverage included interviewing Izzy’s mom Heather Bradley who shared, “I really appreciate Target’s policy of including them in their ads. I think it really normalizes Down syndrome and helps people to see we’re really just like any other family. I really just hope that if a new mom, or an expectant mom, were to see a little girl in an ad that they would just have that sense of hope for their child, and that they would know really there’s a great future for them.”

For many advertisers, the holidays mark the biggest season where the advertising has to be perfect. From Norman Rockwell’s romanticized covers of the Saturday Evening Post to the famous Coca-cola Santa and polar bear ads and the Eveready Bunny who’s batteries power presents under the tree, this season’s advertising is often highly curated so that everything is flawless and perfect.

Every family has their own version of perfect though, and because of that, there’s a wonderful opportunity for more advertisers to be inclusive. Millions of holiday shoppers in some way are connected to people with disabilities and their family’s version of perfect might include seeing a child with Down Syndrome smiling at Santa, an amputee embracing his wife, or even a boy with a prosthetic eye dreaming about Legos.

This holiday consider the gift of inclusion by encouraging visibility and voice for people with  disabilities.


Inspiration & Insight From Hill Holliday Creative Director

Dave Banta, EVP and Group Creative Director at Hill Holliday shared some powerful insights during a phone interview about the Liberty Mutual campaign that I’ve also blogged about in the past two posts. Dave’s background spans more than 25 years in advertising at different agencies across the country, he’s been creative director on Liberty Mutual’s account for 3 ½  of his 4 ½ years at Hill Holliday.

Did you get any pushback – either internally or from the client?
“There was a little anxiety – when we do these things we do them with the best intentions – we do these things to make a point that is true. We wanted an accurate story. You have to ask yourself – are you leveraging a person with disability to make a brand look good? i.e. using her disability to make ourselves look better in the commercial or are we making an accurate real commercial.”

How did you and your team conceive of the idea?
“Liberty Mutual’s platform is responsibility so the idea is to celebrate the customers’ responsibility while sharing the company’s own – service – treating customers the way they need to. As a company and brand the campaign says that Liberty Mutual is standing up during this era of corporate malfeasance.

The responsibility idea originated with the first spot – small acts add up to make a difference – this kind of pay it forward spot – one person does a responsible act and another person witnesses / participates and does their own responsible thing and it comes full circle.

We ran that ad and it got traction – the company was very selflessly putting out this message of responsibility among the category’s clutter of spots among examples including telling people they could save $400 in 15 minutes.

The Election ad with Teal Sherer took one person who is responsible and followed only her throughout the ad – this person has every excuse to not do her civic duty but she continues on regardless and votes – where able bodied people potentially would be apathetic. The thought is the viewer would watch that and with only one person’s story in the ad, viewers would pay it forward and create a virtual circle connecting back to the responsible act in the commercial.

After testing we found out that people still like seeing the multiple people’s interaction / circle acted out so we did more of those spots and now you see the sight impaired woman in the Liberty Mutual spot.”

What sparked this creative idea?
“Including the woman in the spot came from a personal experience. I take the train everyday into Boston and I usually ride in the same passenger car as a blind man along with his seeing eye dog. What surprises me every day is the people who help him AND those who don’t. Some people will help him through doors and offer him a seat and some won’t. Thinking about paying forward the responsibility theme, it’s also interesting to watch reactions of people when they see others assisting him – or watching people’s reactions to those that don’t. We weren’t making judgements – there are people who will step up and help people eregardless of any circumstance they do the right thing.”

What got you to come back to Liberty Mutual with another PWD in this most recent spot?
“For Liberty Mutual, we’ve always tried to accurately represent the target audience and that is everybody and being inclusive is just about accurately representing the target audience.”

How come more advertising isn’t inclusive of people with disabilities?
“Sometimes people think companies are using people with disabilities, PWD’s, just to leverage emotion for personal brand benefit for the corporation. People ask the question – are we taking advantage of the disability for emotions to sell a product?

There are innovative, contemporary companies out there that build there brands around risk and then there are the majority of risk averse and I think they look at the legal implications and they shy away from it and then there is an implication to the product that potentially may be negative. Anytime you put out an ad it is a risk – because there is no universal acceptance people may criticize it. We believed we were doing it with the best intentions regardless of their disability.

You want to be true to people who are watching the commercial – a lot of times clients want aspirational worlds of perfection. There is this fantasy world where people can watch where no one really exists. I like to be true and real with storytelling – so I think if you are going to be accurately representing the population then you should include everybody and PWD’s are part of that. Diversity isn’t just in the big cities – it’s in small towns, it’s everywhere.”


Liberty Mutual’s Responsibility Revolution

I believe advertising can start a revolution. After interviewing Teal Sherer and getting her take as an actor in the commercial, I was fortunate enough to interview Jennifer Anderson, Marketing Manager with Liberty Mutual, who shared more insights from the advertiser’s perspective.

Prior to hiring Teal, Jennifer mentioned that her team worked with a non-profit media organization to ensure that the disability would be portrayed correctly and with as much realism as possible. The team at Liberty Mutual also made the decision to hire a person with disability, PWD, actor as opposed to a fully able actor portraying a PWD. “We were overwhelmed by Teal’s response and participation. Teal worked with our team and the agency to share how she really went through her daily routine – capturing for us every detail.”

Jennifer says that “The goal of the TV ad was to align Liberty Mutual and the value of doing the right thing – which may not be the easy thing – regardless of ability.”

Jennifer went on to inform me about a new Liberty Mutual brand ad and inclusion of a PWD within one of their newest commercials. Here, you’ll see the spot, which features a blind woman – whom Liberty Mutual did cast a blind woman – and her experiences and interactions with others on her daily commute. Working with the Braille Institute, Jennifer and her team made sure that the spot incorporated the same attention to detail as the earlier ‘Election’ by including the right kind of guidance stick. Below is a link to the commercial.

Jennifer informed me that the initial idea was sparked by Liberty Mutual’s advertising agency, Hill Holliday. “We loved the idea and we wanted to make sure that when including someone with a disability we showed them as very capable. Even with things that made the situation in the ad a little more challenging –  such as the rain, waiting at a bus stop, gated access to the voting site – that these challenges could be overcome.”

“When Hill Holliday presented the concept for the latest ad, we were excited.  Again, we wanted to ensure that the people we cast are real and in real situations. We want it to be true to life. It was very rewarding to be in touch and to learn about a person with a disability’s daily life and to portray it in a way that doesn’t convey weakness. Instead, we were sure to depict someone going through everyday routines with pride and responsibility.”