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Best Strategies For Authentic Representation Of Disability In Content Marketing

Written by: Annette Densham, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


The content marketing industry has made significant strides in diversity & inclusion. But a serious problem still persists – disability is rarely seen from television to online advertising campaigns.

Take TV commercials, for example. Unless it's a healthcare spot, these ads typically feature only able-bodied people.

Sometimes it can be difficult for people with a disability to consume this content. Where are the subtitles? Why can't screen readers access it?

Lisa Cox is an advocate for people with disabilities. She has a few things to say on this topic.

“Strategies don’t add impossible layers of complexity to the creative process. Furthermore, dismissing these important considerations sends a troubling message – that people with disabilities are not valued members of society. Not to mention the clear message that the disability dollar is somehow worth less than a non-disabled consumer,” Lisa said.

“However, agencies can enjoy far-reaching benefits by including disabled individuals in their content. Authentically portraying disability doesn’t just shape perceptions which benefit society – it also has financial upsides.”

By making their media accessible to the disability community, agencies can expand their market share in an underserved market.

Lisa said to do that, you need to implement effective strategies “Without tokenising the people you're trying to reach.”

Let's talk about a few ways marketers can authentically portray disabled individuals.”

Feature a Variety of Disabled Individuals in Ad Campaigns

The person in the wheelchair is a trope all disabled people are familiar with. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with including this sort of content, it’s not reflective of how broad the disability sector is.

Lisa said many advertisers mean well when they feature physically disabled people. “But the disability community is so rich with diversity, and there are many disabilities that you can’t even see and don’t require obvious aids,” she said.

From the hard-of-hearing to the neurodiverse, you may wish to consider including talent like this.

“Obviously, it is a short commercial. You require something obvious (like a wheelchair) to signal to the audience that the talent has a disability. But there may be other ways ‒ such as a D/deaf person using sign language ‒ that signal ‘disability’ in a short spot,” Lisa said.

Incorporate Assistive Technology into Marketing Content

While fun to watch, YouTube's auto-generated captions leave A LOT to be desired.

For example, in 2019, an article in The Atlantic featured Rikki Poynter, a Deaf YouTube creator. In it, she rails against "CRAPtions".

The article offered various examples, such as influencer Emma Chamberlain saying, "once (my) plane lands, “I’ll be in Paris."

Meanwhile, the YouTube auto-caption said, "once (my) plane lands, I’ll be embarrassed."

How are the hard-of-hearing supposed to understand a brand when YouTube's text-to-speech translator messes up this badly?

And what about the people with low vision or who are blind? To surf the internet, they use screen reading programs. But when site builders overlay text on images or use low-contrast backgrounds, these programs struggle.

By designing media with accessibility in mind, brands can avoid offence and make their messages easier to understand.

Invite Disabled People to Review Products or Services

When developing products and services, many agencies focus heavily on functionality. But while it’s a noble endeavour, their engineers often fail to consider consumers with a disability.

A great example of this is currently happening. The fashion industry has undergone huge changes in recent years in terms of the growing success of adaptive and inclusive fashion ‒ clothes designed specifically for the needs of people with disabilities.

Lisa said thankfully, there's an easy way to nip these problems in the bud. “By asking disabled end users for feedback, they can uncover serious design flaws within minutes,” she said.

“This saves redesign costs later on, and by developing a disability-friendly product/service, it can be a huge PR win for the firm in question.”

Disability Inclusion – Good For the Soul and Good for Business

Despite immense challenges, people with disabilities have the same hopes and desires as the general population. But they face a world designed for able-bodied people – including the media.

Lisa said content creators can make their daily lives easier. “By creating content tailored to the needs of those with disabilities, brands can build positive, long-lasting relationships with them,” she said.

Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and visit my website for more info! Read more from Annette!


Annette Densham, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine Multi-award-winning PR specialist Annette Densham is considered the go-to for all things business storytelling, award submission writing, and assisting business leaders in establishing themselves as authorities in their field. She has shared her insights into storytelling, media, and business across Australia, UK, and the US speaking for Professional Speakers Association, Stevie Awards, Queensland Government, and many more. Three times winner of the Grand Stevie Award for Women in Business, gold Stevie International Business Award, and a finalist in Australian Small Business Champion awards, Annette audaciously challenges anyone in small business to cast aside modesty, embrace their genius and share their stories.



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