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You Can't Get There From Here

When activism dresses up in advertising's outfits.
By Kimberley Barreda
This is a fine and nuanced point to be aware of when marketing to disabled consumers. If it's "buy this", it's advertising, if it's "think this", it's activism.
Activism comes in words and portrayals, where the aim is to change how disabled people are perceived in the world and in media. Activism messages are not normally speaking to the disabled consumer, but are more directed toward the non-disabled community. They can often be summed up with "I don't see you as disabled".

The "I don't see you as disabled" position is a variation of the "victorious disabled person, overcoming their disability" theme. Wrongfully considered noble and welcoming, it's problematic because it removes the life experience of the disabled person, negates the realities of disability and shames the state of disability by virtue of it needing to be unseen. What's intended as a compliment is actually an insult.

The "change how disabled are perceived" concept is also a lofty goal in theory, but often fails in practice, as the aim is to change what already works at the expense of the disabled community, and does the exact opposite by using inappopriate settings, situations and models, changing what was intended to be a spectacular marketing concept into a sad, discordant spectacle.

It's easy to cross that line with good intentions, and the simplest way to avoid doing it is by using established marketing principles. The myth that disabled people want to be spoken to differently to prove a larger point is just that, a myth. If it's "buy this", it's advertising, if it's "think this", it's activism.

Kimberley Barreda

Kimberley is an award winning writer, actor, model, disability lifestyle and business marketing specialist, helping businesses reach disabled consumers. Principal at Specialty Casting featuring international disabled talent. See more at Unlimbited

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