Alice Wong recognizes the need for disability visibility in advertising and beyond. She is a strong presence in the disability community whether at the White House meeting with President Obama or on social media with her always visible, passionate and unique spin on topics. Not only is Alice a storyteller herself, but she is a conduit for people with disabilities and their own storytelling through the Disability Visibility Project.
If she recorded stories from the advertising community’s leaders in human resources, creative directors, talent and others today for the Disability Visibility Project what would be shared?
Recently I had the wonderful opportunity to interview Alice about her work, her thoughts on advertising, advocacy and even politics.
President Obama talks w Alice Wong via robot before the ADA reception.
What are your thoughts on the current state of broadly defined media (TV, movies, advertising, journalism) and inclusion of people with disabilities?
“Things are better–media is opening up becoming more diffuse. Social media changed everything, giving every person a platform and ability to report and create their own media. If you look at mainstream media, whether it’s public or commercial, you don’t see many people with disabilities in decision-making positions or even featured. The lack of disability diversity results in stories about people with disabilities often being told from a non-disabled lens so the stories and themes are geared for the non-disabled audience that can often miss the actual lived experiences of the disabled person. I cringe at headlines of inspiration porn stories such as: “Photo Of Grocery Store Worker Helping Blind Customer Shop Goes Viral” or “McDonald’s Employee Feeds Disabled Customer in Heartwarming Act of Kindness”
For more on inspiration porn and how reporters can do better, I co-authored an article with Liz Jackson and R. Larkin Taylor-Parker about why it’s problematic and how media can improve the way they report on people with disabilities
Short answer: there’s a lot to be improved while things are incrementally better.”
More specifically, what are your thoughts on the current state of advertising and disability?
“Things are better but I’m tired of being excited whenever we see inclusion as if it’s a unique or groundbreaking event. It’s 2016 and it shouldn’t be newsworthy when we see a model with a disability on the runway or a kid with a disability featured in a Target commercial. Also, so often there aren’t people of color with disabilities featured in any advertising or media—it’s as if you can’t have ‘too’ much diversity or advertisers don’t know how to handle it. The default image of people with disabilities is white and that is another form of erasure .
Much of the media also continues to get it wrong, at least about wheelchair users. Many articles and websites continue to use stock images that feature wheelchairs that are built for daily use–it’s always been one of my pet peeves to see the clunky wheelchairs you see in a hospital whenever there’s a story about people with disabilities. For example: http://www.regaltribune.com/it-seems-one-in-5-americans-have-a-disability/22180/”
How does your organization, The Disability Visibility Project, fit in to champion change?
“The Disability Visibility Project is a community partnership with StoryCorps and an online community dedicated to recording, amplifying, and sharing disability stories and culture. We encourage people to create and share their own stories to document their lives and what matters to them without any editing or interference. People are welcome to go to StoryCorps (located in Chicago, Atlanta, San Francisco and Mobile Tour) or use their smartphone app to record their stories for our project. The goal is to have an online archive on our website with excerpts from everyone’s stories. Details can be found here: http://disabilityvisibilityproject.com/how-to-participate/
We also have a Facebook group where I post various articles and blog posts by people disabilities and the media representation of disability is a topic that generates a lot of discussion. It’s nice to have a space online where people can come together and have thoughtful conversations and there’s a huge spectrum of attitudes and opinions.”
Best case scenario, what would be your vision for advertising and inclusion of people with disabilities in 5 years?
“Where it’s not newsworthy, remarkable or something we have to celebrate. After demanding it for so many years, we start taking it for granted that people with disabilities are featured in advertising—wouldn’t that be progress, to have inclusion as a default?”
What barriers are there to achieving that vision?
“Not enough people with disabilities being employed and rising up the ranks to be in decision-making positions when it comes to designing and creating campaigns or hiring new talent. In general, ableist attitudes in society that continues to exclude and marginalize people with disabilities.”
Are there any initiatives coming up for The Disability Visibility Project that you’d like to share?
“I’m a co-partner with Andrew Pulrang and Gregg Beratan in an online campaign called #CripTheVote that’s about engaging both voters and politicians in a productive discussion about disability issues in the United States with the hope that disability takes on greater prominence within the American political landscape.
We will be hosting two Twitter chats March 9-10 before a Democratic and Republican debate. Details here: http://disabilityvisibilityproject.com/2016/02/21/cripthevote-upcoming-events-feb-mar/”
Finally, do you have a favorite ad, brand or campaign that is inclusive of people with disability?
“There are two that are nice because they are so ordinary.
This 2014 ad for Swiffer is great because it features a parent with a disability and a multiracial family.
In 2015, the ad for Honey Maid is so nice and refreshing because it features an aunt with her niece doing something together.”