Advertising & Disability

Disability: From Ugly To Beautiful

What if you were fined for just being out and about and walking down the sidewalk…because you were considered ugly? I’m not talking about the Fashion Police that could jokingly fine you if  you’re caught wearing a combination of plaid and paisley. From the late 1800’s to the mid 1970’s, several larger cities across America had so-called Ugly Laws, that would fine people, most often those with disabilities, up to $50 for just being out in public. These laws not only tried to enforce people from being outside and in public places , but also created a stigma among family members, caretakers and the people with disabilities themselves, that they were lesser than, not deserving of, or in any way part of normal society.

While those laws have been abolished for decades, the misnomers, negativity and lack of understanding continued to spread, especially in the advertising industry, where, for so long,  detailed perfection and lack of minorities were the norm. While the ad industry is much more open to inclusion and imperfection as a positive brand feature, representation, employment and inclusion of people with disabilities is definitely not where it needs to be.

Education, collaboration and conversations can all lead to a different perspective and change what has been seen as ugly into a thing of beauty.

That’s where Changing the Face of Beauty, is helping to educate and inform the ad industry. The nonprofit corporation, according to their website, is committed to equal representation of people with disabilities in advertising and media worldwide.

I had the opportunity to speak with the organization’s founder, Katie Driscoll, to find out more about how Changing the Face of Beauty is helping to educate and inform the ad industry.

How is Changing the Face of Beauty activating and educating people in the ad industry?

“Initially when we became a nonprofit we needed to come up with progressive ideas to push the mission forward and we decided to do that in a couple of ways, the first being a stock image database which we just broke ground on to have more realistic images of disability.

The other was to educate and really start talking to the next generation of advertising.

What we realized is that we are raising very socially conscious individuals and I personally believe that the next generation has the opportunity to change alot in this world. There is no better time or place than to educate high school and college students before they enter their careers to see how people with disabilities are underrepresented.”

Can you share more about the educational program you’re launching this fall?

“We created a week-long educational program for high school and college students to get the students to better understand how people with disabilities can be integrated into advertising. We really focused in on college students because, at that age and their learning path, they are already focused on their careers. This intensive educational supplement can work with almost any major, because advertising touches almost every profession.

The curriculum was developed in partnership with Stephanie Thomas, disability fashion editor, stylist and adjunct faculty at the Art Institute of California.”

What are some things students will learn?

“One of the strongest ways to connect and teach is through video and we developed a video that includes ad industry executives, marketing directors, and many people with disabilities showing that they are consumers just like anyone else.

“We had a creative director speak honestly that diversity doesn’t always include disability

She has never had a client ask her to include someone with a disability to be represented in her campaign. So it is really an honest look at why we are here, and where we need to go.”

How are you getting the word out?

“We are very social media centric and through that, hopefully we can motivate people to have a conversation. This cutting edge program launched at the Matilda Jane Clothing Sales Conference on July 21st, 2016, and 400 of their trunk keepers, who are a motivated and socially conscious sales force can share the message with everyone they connect with across the country.”

Why do we need to education in the first place?

“My personal opinion is that right now disability has two adjectives that are tied to it: inspiration and pity. These two words can stop creative conversations before an ad is created. In order to include disability in advertising, many advertisers and agencies think that the ad has to in some way have either, or both, inspiration and pity and that the message has to cater to disability in a different way than for other diversity and inclusion. We aren’t asking to create a special campaign we are just asking to be included.

In my conversations I feel like we are at a tipping point and a great position right now for change but I’d say that we have a long way to go, and unfortunately these conversations are not being had as much as they should. We have to be creative and show the industry what is possible.

Hopefully these future advertising executives and business owners can be comfortable with everyone and include people with disabilities.”

We’ve banned the Ugly Laws, but we still have work ahead to change the face of beauty. Here’s to more education and inclusion.