The Signs of the Times Are Changing

The artwork in the blog header shows signs that people easily recognize for both advertising and disability, but, for me, these symbols, only share a small portion of the full spectrum of the worlds of advertising and disability.

In the middle of the last century, advertising agencies fronting Madison Avenue addresses evolved to become bastions of creative culture paving the way for the street’s recognition as a pseudonym for the capital of commerce. Where do you think the show Mad Men got it’s name? I’m proud to say I started my career at 285 Madison Ave – Young & Rubicam.

With the advent of the internet, social media and other advances, agencies, creatives and the industry have shifted from a singularly recognized capital contained on one thoroughfare in Manhattan to everywhere from Park Slope in Brooklyn, Silicon Valley, Austin, Texas, Richmond, Virginia and, yes, even here in Knoxville, Tennessee. Not only have the centers of advertising been dispersed to the four corners, but the industry as a whole is considering what the word ‘advertising’ means today. Blended businesses that include design, video, interactive, social, and PR go well beyond traditional advertising agency models and now terms like brand consultancy, communication collaborators, boutiques and marketing partners are often the monikers better defining what we do and what industry we continue to shape.

Designed in 1968 by Susanne Koefoed according to Wikipedia, the International Symbol of Access (ISA), also known as the (International) Wheelchair Symbol, consists of a blue square overlaid in white with a stylized image of a person using a wheelchair. It is maintained as an international standard, ISO 7001, and a copyrighted image of the International Commission on Technology and Accessibility (ICTA), a committee of Rehabilitation International. The symbol is often seen where access has been improved, particularly for wheelchair users, but also for other disability issues.

Disability goes well beyond tangible visual cues of wheelchairs, amputations, sign language and missing an eye in my case. But, more often than not in advertising, what symbolizes those with disability stays within seeing eye dogs, braille, sign-language and wheelchairs. Granted disabilities such as mental illness or other internal issues may be challenging to share, there still needs to be a place in advertising for a stronger voice.

Disability is coming to more of a forefront of awareness, recognition and rights. The world of advertising, curated content and brand-connected conversations continues to proliferate into every aspect of our lives. How can messages of disability in advertising continue to grow among all the changing platforms? What can we do to ensure that symbols continue to evolve and infuse true representation for disabled groups, whether wheelchair bound, blind or for those facing other challenges not so readily visible?

More conversations that bring these groups together and the issues into a discussion will be a great start. Connecting professional organizations, such as the American Advertising Federation and the American Association of People with Disabilities would be a wonderful start.


One thought on “The Signs of the Times Are Changing

  1. I think the way for interacting favorably with people with mental illness is to try and work in easing the stigma that surrounds it. My favorite websites regarding mental illness are NAMI (national alliance on mental illness and DBSA (depression and bipolar alliance)

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