The Rio Paralympics haven’t even started, and the games are already in a crisis of shifted funding for athlete participation, diminished staff and potentially empty stands. But the Sagamihara massacre and Japan’s surrounding miasma dealing with disability, make these hurdles seem small compared to what lies ahead for the games, athletes, advertisers and so many others when Tokyo hosts the Paralympics in 2020.
Because so little media attention was given to what happened in Sagamihara, Japan, many are unaware of the disability dilemma Japan has to come to grips with. On July 26, 2016, Satoshi Uematsu, a former employee of a center for the disabled in a Tokyo suburb broke into the building and killed 19 people and wounded dozens of others with a knife. All of the dead, nine men and 10 women, were residents of the center and ranged in age from 18 to 70.
In a letter addressed to government officials, the killer said he felt “sorry” for people with disabilities, many of whom were, in his words, “bound to wheelchairs for life” and went on to say “my aim is a world where people with multiple disabilities who have extreme difficulty living at home or being active in society can be euthanized with the consent of their guardians….the disabled can only create misery.”
The horrific crime was the worst mass murder in Japan since World War II.
While this singular event was an atrocity, a sample of headlines including: “Is Disability Still A Dirty Word In japan?”, “The Long Road To Disability Rights In Japan” and “Outcast Status Worsens Pain of Japan’s DIsabled” paint a picture of larger cultural and societal rifts between people with disabilities and others.
Mizuki Hsu, a leading Japanese disability advocate, shares more in this video below, produced by Rooted In Rights.
The Olympics and Paralympics are brand machines worth billions and will only pause for a short time after the Rio games come to a close. Advertisers, marketers and brands will all be looking to Tokyo to start shaping stories. How will those stories be told?
Creative directors, marketing directors and consumers can all be advocates for deeper conversations about disability before, during and after the games. And while the games are a wonderful rallying point to spotlight people with disabilities and their sporting achievements, we, as an industry, need to do a better job of simply including people with disabilities around conference tables, in concepting sessions, and in ads…not to be elevated as inspirations on a pedestal, but simply among the mix of people who are loyal, passionate and care about brands.
Because of the significant role advertising plays within our culture, driving, not only brand purchases and affinity, but construct of self as an individual and place in society, the inclusion of disability in advertising is imperative to better educate, interpret, and accept people with disabilities as a viable part of our economy, community and culture. Advertising can, and should, be a part of a larger societal shift in understanding and inclusion.
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