Why are people with disabilities still not being represented in ads?

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Over the past few years there’s been a real change in advertising, with many brands and agencies pushing for advertising to become more inclusive.

Whether than means being more inclusive of the LGBT community, women, or making the effort to cast models and actors from BAME backgrounds, it seems like advertising is heading in the right direction.

However, there is still one marginalised group that is being left out of the casting calls.

People with disabilities.

It’s been a good year for representation in marketing. One of the biggest marketing stunts of the year, the Fearless Girl, has attracted loads of press coverage and got many people talking about feminism. She may be small, but she’s representing women in a big way.

There’s also been some major steps towards more BAME inclusiveness in ads (and some missteps… looking at you Dove). Projects like #SummerSoWhite are really ensuring that diversity is reflected in advertising, and marketers seem to be paying attention to the real rewards that diversity can bring.

The same is true for the LGBT community. Big names like PayPal, Lush and Ikea have all featured LGBT couples in their ads.

This is an amazing step forward, even from a couple of years ago. As a gay man, I would never have dreamed of seeing a Valentine’s Day ad featuring two men, and I’m so proud that advertising has reached this stage where so many can see themselves represented on TV and across billboards and the sides of buses.

But what’s missing?

People with disabilities are still horribly marginalised. Scope estimates that around 10 million disabled people are not in work, and around half of the British public don’t know anyone who is disabled.

This all contributes towards a lack of visibility for disabled people. Nobody on the creative teams are pushing for disabled people to be cast. Project managers aren’t asking why disabled people aren’t included. And so disabled people become even more marginalised.

The last campaign I can think of that featured a disabled person was the Maltesers ads from 2016 (which, by the way, was their most successful advert in ten years. Ten years! That’s crazy!)

This needs to stop. We need more disabled people to be included. Diversity needs an upgrade, to be fully diverse.

There are projects out there that are trying to bring awareness to this issue. Scope is doing some amazing work on their #WorkWithMe project, and the Identities Project has some amazing videos on what it means to be a disabled person, but it’s still not enough.

We need to be more inclusive, especially to those groups that really need to see themselves represented. We need to work harder and be better.

Billy Leonard is content and outreach senior account executive at Harvest Digital

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