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How marketers are speaking to people with disabilities like never before

AccessiBe launches national effort

Here’s a positive and powerful post-lockdown trend: brands providing the correct tools for people with a range of disabilities and leveraging the might of marketing to spread the word. Hallmark Cards, AccessiBe and Understood.org have all embraced the ’by and for’ mentality of debuting new products and messages this month.

The act of sending a physical greetings card is something that many take for granted. However, if you have any of a variety of disabilities, it can prove to be a daunting task. That’s why America’s oldest and largest card manufacturer, Hallmark, has debuted ’Sign & Send’. It allows people to purchase a card online, type or photograph a message and press send from their phone. Hallmark takes it from there by producing the card, stamping it and sending it via snail mail.

This launch is one of a welcome – and increasing – spate of new products and services aimed at the large, and too-often underserved, community of people with disabilities.

In addition to Hallmark’s effort this month, AcessiBe just launched a new campaign. Its creation was inclusive of people with disabilities throughout the entire process. The campaign touts its automated web accessibility solutions, including an automatic screen reader that leverages AI. And then there is Understood.org, which is partnering with Games For Change to help teens and young adults who have thinking and learning differences.

Personal meaning for these personal messages

Sign & Send is in the midst of a robust marketing plan across digital and social media, while also leveraging Hallmark’s popular ’Crown Rewards’ loyalty program. In fact, the first card is free for rewards members.

“Hallmark is a brand that has an extremely high commitment to inclusivity,” says marketing chief Lindsey Roy. “It’s inherently embedded in our company’s promise to consumers. Our brand promise is that we are here to help all people to live caring and connected lives filled with meaningful moments – and that’s something you think about with our product lines and marketing, it has always been a bedrock of who we are.”

This holds a great deal of meaning for Roy, who nearly a decade ago suffered grave injuries during a boating accident while on vacation and had to have her left leg amputated. The relevance of this to the product launch demonstrates the power of inclusivity.

Roy recounts that when she was in the first acute phase of her recovery, she experienced utter disbelief in what was happening. “I couldn’t believe that this happened to me and I couldn’t believe I would have to face this whole set of life challenges that a lot of people go through in different sorts of ways,” she says.

“I was fortunate enough to have a lot of support from friends and family and coworkers. And I received so many greeting cards during those first weeks and months. And for somebody who has worked at Hallmark for a couple of decades, I was just blown away by how much those words meant to me… I fell even more in love with empathy and encouragement, living that firsthand.”

During that time, while Roy was learning how to use a prosthetic leg, she recalls barely being able to walk to the kitchen or go to the store or post office. Perceiving all of these challenges, she says she grew to appreciate the brands that made it easy for her to connect to them and their mission – from wherever she was. “It really helped me to think we have to be where our consumers are.”

AccessiBe makes a national statement

Nearly 20% of people in the US have a disability that may prohibit them from using a website easily. By making websites accessible to all, “you gain access to up to 20% more people than you ever had access to before because now they truly can visit your site,” says Michael Hingson, chief vision officer at AccessiBe.

To raise awareness about AccessiBe’s AI-enabled solution, the company launched its first national TV ad this month. It features people from within the community, the Unstoppables, including Paralympian gold medalist Aimee Copeland who is an amputee; businessman, author, civic leader and veteran Jim Clingman who has ALS; and screenwriter and director Emily Kranking, who has cerebral palsy.

The ad will run for six to eight weeks on national TV, cable and over-the-top TV. The company is also targeting people on online forums, TikTok and Instagram toward this effort.

For AccessiBe, the behind-the-scenes work was as critical as it is for Hallmark. People may recognize Hingson as the man who was guided down 78 floors of Tower One of the World Trade Center during September 11 by his seeing eye dog, Roselle.

Roy Gefen, chief marketing officer at AccessiBe, recalls the Zoom meeting the company had with its inner community and other participants prior to the commercial’s official launch. “They were so proud to see themselves and be part of this story that was told in the right way,” he says. Gefen also shed tears. As a longtime advertising and marketing executive, he says this was the moment he’s been waiting for. “I have seen many videos, movies and commercials,” he emphasizes. “You always dream about the one you can make that is emotional and genuine and does something good for the world – and then I found it.” Borax Creative Filmmaking is the agency behind the effort.

For its part, AccessiBe has reached the three-year mark and has found the right time to spread the gospel of website accessibility. But for Hingson, from a personal standpoint, ever since September 11, he has worked in part to try to educate people about blindness and about disabilities. “It’s not just a life goal, it’s something that we should be doing,” he says.

Becoming more understood

Understood.org is a social impact organization that supports 70 million people who have learning and thinking differences. Through its tie-up with G4C – a social gaming nonprofit – Understood.org aims to reach a bigger audience, particularly of the ’gamer profile’ teens and young adults that are in that critical life stage where we can help them thrive as an adult, says Jenny Wu, chief product officer. Its importance “is the real world impact of games that can drive true life skills for individuals”.

The organization’s goal is to help those with invisible disabilities build critical life skills, like getting them through their first job, building self-awareness and self-advocacy, and teaching young adults that they can ask for some flexibility and accommodation as they move into a workplace environment, she says. “For us, we feel that learning and thinking differences is something that are particularly misunderstood and hence why we are making it a priority.”

One way Understood.org will raise consciousness with G4C is speaking at the Games For Change Festival. Like AccessiBe, it will incorporate storytelling as a means to build a connection to the world. One way is through advocacy. This can be as a champion or mentor to someone, or a potential donor in the space. Or it can simply be sharing a story. “We know that sharing personal stories is one of the most powerful forces to reduce stigma and encourage people to make positive changes in their own journey,” says Wu.

The organization has captured personal stories on video and is sharing them on social media. Wu notes that the more personalized the stories are, the more effective. “Seeing people talk and be vulnerable allows us to have a relationship with our users that feel much more safe,“ she says. The organizations wants to build a safe space for its communities where people feel well-represented, and where they can be themselves. And they feel like they are not alone, first and foremost, says Wu.

Understood.org will also participate in G4C’s student challenge later this fall, which, says Wu, aligns well with the initiatives it has targeting teens and young adults who are seeking their first taste of independence, such as looking for a first job or apartment. “We are hoping that through partnerships such as Games For Change, we are reaching a really rich young adult community that we can help for the long term.”

For Understood.org, it, too, has that ’by and for’ mentality. Wu underscores the importance of diversity around the table to have a better chance to build that in from the beginning than try to retro-fit it after the fact, “which we know is expensive from a game development perspective,” she says. Here, building partnerships with game developers or partners when they are in the conception stage of games to try to understand the perspective of learning and thinking differences among players who may have certain challenges or barriers is key.

Wu says Understood.org’s goal is to convince people that to be inclusive is a benefit for everyone. For instance, just hearing someone on a podcast that is potentially inspiring can have a huge lasting effect on people with any sort of disability, she says. “That’s been a great inspiration for us as we think about the products and the media and the content we want to create in the future.”

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