Disability in Advertising and Marketing

target disabled adIn recent years, companies have been increasing the level of diversity visible in their advertising. This is a sign that businesses recognize the need for their clients to see themselves reflected in the public face of the brand. While more racially diverse marketing has been increasing for many years now, one of the newest forms of visible diversity has come in the form of visibly disabled models. In print advertising and on the runway, disabled models are making a splash.

Pioneering Models

One of the first places where clients were able to see models with disabilities was on the runway in major fashion shows. For example, Aimee Mullins, an actress, athlete and fashion model, walked the runway for Alexander McQueen on elaborately carved prosthetic legs that had been designed specifically for her. Mullins prosthetic legs for the show were designed to look like boots and were an integral part of McQueen’s collection during that show. Mullins also modeled for a number of other brands. Her presence in the fashion world has stood as a reminder that fashion isn’t just a concern for able-bodied people, and that disabled people can be fashion-forward too.

Nordstrom has also been a groundbreaking brand when it comes to including models with disabilities in their advertising. The company has been featuring models with disabilities in its catalogs since 1991 and firmly believes in producing ad campaigns that reflect the diversity of their customer base.

Reflecting Children With Disabilities

Most recently, companies have been including children with disabilities, particularly wheelchair users and children with Down Syndrome, in their ad campaigns. These campaigns can help entire families feel included and reflected in the public face of the company. Notable brands to include children with disabilities are Target, JCPenney, and Care.com.

Local businesses have been getting in on the act as well. For smaller brands that target their advertising to a local community, integrating children with disabilities in their advertisements often means simply including a neighborhood child who is already a customer. The intimate relationship between local businesses and their communities can make having visibly inclusive ads an obvious choice.

Progress For Disabled Communities

Inclusion in advertising campaigns is a definite sign of progress for disabled communities. Being the visible face of a brand means that there is less stigma associated with being disabled than in years past. Still, there is a long way to go.

How has your brand included people with disabilities? How can your company work to be more inclusive?


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Bird Pilatsky is a PhD student in Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Emory University. A graduate of Smith College, with a B.A. in English and the Study of Women and Gender. She works as an archivist and research assistant with particular interests in LGBT issues, disability studies, and literature. Bird also works as a summer camp counselor. She has worked as an art & layout editor, runs an active blog, and enjoys reading, running, and rollerskating.

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