Industry Awards

Disability on the Main Stage for the Association of National Advertisers’ Multicultural Marketing & Diversity Conference.

Among advertising and marketing professional organizations the Association of National Advertisers, ANA, is taking the lead in recognizing inclusion of people with disabilities. In 2014 the ANA introduced the Multicultural Excellence Award in the People with Disabilities category, the first of its kind in the industry, honoring outstanding work in the disability sector.

The 17th annual ANA Multicultural Marketing & Diversity Conference coming up November 8th through the 10th continues to expand relevance and recognition in the industry for people with disabilities.

Recently I spoke with Janine Martella, Director, Committees and Conferences for the ANA who noted this year’s event has even more to offer for advertisers and others in attendance. Last year’s conference had a breakout session on advertisers and disability and this year the conference will hold a presentation on the main stage led by Apoorva N. Gandhi, Vice President of Multicultural Affairs at Marriott International.

Of the award entrants, Janine shared, “there’s a very inclusive feeling in all of the finalist ads this year. They don’t just focus on a person or people with disabilities. The ads show that these people are part of family and friends of all abilities and within a larger multicultural community.”

Finalists in the mix are:




Why do you think disability, diversity and inclusion are more accepted topics?

Janine shared, “People’s perception of disabilities has changed and a disability can be defined more broadly, such as visible or invisible. There’s now a comfort level recognizing that people with disabilities are in our everyday lives; It’s not just about the people with the disability, it’s also about the people around them. Some advertisers are inclusive in their DNA, by that I mean we continue to hear more about brands recognizing and supporting people with disabilities, and their families, within their own organizations. Advertisers minds’ have been opened in regards to this category and it shows in their marketing efforts. For advertisers, inclusion of people with disabilities opens up a market segment that people may not have paid attention to.”

Rich Donovan, CEO, The Return on Disability Group, rings the NYSE Opening Bell® to celebrate the launch of the Barclays Return on Disability Exchange Traded Note (NYSE Arca: RODI).
customer segmentation, profitability

Shifting Perceptions & Shaping The PWD Story Around Profitability

In advertising, everyone wants to connect with Millennials – it’s the customer group to engage with. And why not? Dozens of industry reports point to this youth market as one of the most influential, largest groups with the most disposable income. Where do you think people with disability, as a minority group would rank? According to Rich Donovan, CEO of The Return on Disability Group,“With an estimated population of 1.3 billion, people with disabilities (PWD) constitute an emerging market the size of China. Their Friends and Family add another 2.3 billion potential consumers who act on their emotional connection to PWD. Together, they control over $8 trillion in annual disposable income. Companies seeking new ways to create value for stakeholders have a strong interest in attracting the spending of this increasingly powerful cohort.”

Rich Donovan easily sees, translates and shares the added-value benefits inclusion of the disability market brings to corporations and governments. From the website,, I learned that Rich “is a globally recognized subject matter expert on the convergence of disability and corporate profitability. Rich created the Return on Disability concept and model, and he provides corporate and government clients with insights and tools to frame disability as a global emerging market.”

Recently I had the opportunity to interview Rich and learn more about how he and the Return on Disability Group are making an impact.

Can you share more on the background of the Return on Disability? What keeps you passionate today?

It all comes back to one simple thing in business, what gets measured gets done, and frankly disability has never been legitimately on the radar. Many major corporations that have multiple brands under their management, collect, measure and monitor dozens of different data points on each consumer cohort, but disability has rarely been factored in.

Among the top performing brands, disability has never been measured in as rigorous a way that other typically sought after groups have. People with disabilities are a part of the marketplace – in a big way – and at the end of the day, there is an opportunity to measure impact and The Return on Disability Group is doing that.

What would you say has been the biggest stumbling block to greater visibility and voice for people with disabilities in advertising?

I think it all comes down to risk. Many times we cling to what we recognize and are familiar with. Marketers’ decisions are often rooted in the data and understanding of the marketplace, but that data doesn’t exist for people with disabilities like it does with other segments. It is difficult to see past that risk to the opportunities with that data and information.

What you’re going to see over the next few years is a data revolution where brands and companies are going to buy into the size and scope of the disability market, but to get that new data in front of these marketers is going to require rigorous research and understanding.

If you’re managing a billion dollar brand you’re not going to take a risk on disability, without a rigorous approach.

Within your business, what has been the most surprising insight for you?

I expected there to be much more skepticism, but the conversations have been simple. Brands will jump on this pretty quickly if you give them the data. The goal for these companies is to not connect their brand with people with disabilities once and walk away but to build this connectivity into the muscle of the company and brand.

Rich Donovan, CEO, The Return on Disability Group, rings the NYSE Opening Bell® to celebrate the launch of the Barclays Return on Disability Exchange Traded Note (NYSE Arca: RODI).

Can you share more about the Return on Disability Index?

The Return on Disability Index started as an internal measurement tool for our clients structured around three buckets: customer , talent and productivity. But I saw that this could be used as a research tool for a stock analysis and over several months went through the largest firms in the U.S. and Canada and determined who the best companies were in relation to creation of shareholder value with people with disabilities. The performance of the top actors stunned me.

Here’s more from the Return on Disability Group’s website:

The Return on Disability Group produces various equity indices containing the best performers in disability for global stock investors. These equity indices are updated and published daily by independent financial institutions. They provide a basis for investors to satisfy Environmental, Social and corporate Governance (ESG) investment mandates while maintaining focus on shareholder value.

Why does this work? Companies that ‘do disability well’ are also generally responsive to their customers, focused on finding great people, understand efficient process and outperform their competition in terms of value creation. Disability inspires lean process, innovation via extreme users and is a proven pool of talent – enhancing productivity. Over four research cycles generating over 156,000 data points, we have shown that companies that generate results on the Return on Disability model deliver increased shareholder value as measured by stock price gains.

When speaking to marketers or advertising agencies, is there a singular piece of data that you share that is the ‘ah ha’ or ‘lightbulb’ moment for them to see the opportunity to be more inclusive?

There are 2 specific pieces. First the disposable income of people with disabilities has always been portrayed as people with little money, but we’re seeing that the numbers, while they are slightly below average, represent a material addressable market. The picture painted by charities of destitution simply does not reflect the reality of the average consumer with a disability. People with disability are a viable market but have been portrayed as an impoverished group to raise charitable funds.

The second piece of information to consider is that friends and family are a key part of this market and it is NOT just people with disabilities that shift spend upon material outreach. Friends and family are impacted by advertising and from a brand perspective it doesn’t get any more powerful than the emotional tie to disability that can connect an entire family to an attractive message or igage.

Including friends and family in the people with disabilities population takes us from roughly 19 percent of the total US population to more than 55 percent and as a brand you could make a decision to not look at the 19 percent people with disabilities marketplace but to ignore the inclusion of family and friends would be foolish. This isn’t a niche – it’s a blockbuster.

The disability market is the biggest new market out there.

For more information on RIch Donovan and the Return on Disability Group, visit


Celebrating Entry Into The American Advertising Federation’s Hall of Fame

The week was filled with celebrations, honors and insights, with the biggest surprise for me at the American Advertising Federation’s awards gala. In ball gowns and black tie, hundreds from our industry came together to recognize the best creative advertising our market has and toast individuals who’ve achieved the highest of accolades. I had the amazing honor of being inducted into the Knoxville Chapter of the American Advertising Federation’s Hall of Fame. Inductees are advertising professionals that have advanced the business interests, innovation, and reputation of our industry; have successful careers with significant creative, media, and marketing accomplishments; and have used their influence to positively impact our community.

It felt just like the Oscars, from wearing the tux, to stepping up on the stage, receiving my award and just as I start to say a few words into the microphone, the music starts playing and the awards ceremony continues. I’m OK with being booted off, though, because of the opportunity this blog gives me to share my passion on advertising and disability, accessible by everyone anytime, anywhere. Two points that I would like to share that were to be included in what I promise would have been a short speech are a thank you and recognition to my lovely wife, Sarah,  and a nod and bow to Designsensory, the agency where I call home, whose leaders and team are always innovative, creative and inspiring.

While personal in recognition, I also see this as a milestone in the opportunity to continue to advance the conversation and to create greater visibility for advertising and disability.

Screen Shot 2015-02-22 at 11.19.52 PM
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.