Inclusion Done Right: How to Make Sure Your Brand Doesn’t Miss The Mark!

It all started with the enacting of a law, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. First, we had to force our entry into businesses with regulations that allowed us to even begin to be seen as consumers. Access to your restaurants, your movie theaters, your shopping centers, and your community businesses was finally granted.

However, that didn’t mean that we were included in your advertising and marketing, or in your custom and paid stock images. We weren’t included in your commercials, your websites, your magazines, or your movies. Inclusion in advertising didn’t take too long to catch on, and it’s been happening more and more. It started in 2008 with a Liberty Mutual insurance commercial starring Teal Sherer. Teal Sherer is an American actress with a disability that is seen in the commercial rolling in the rain to vote.

Guinness also got notoriety in 2013 with their Wheelchair Basketball commercial titled “Friendship”. The commercial was of people playing basketball, one of which was a man in a wheelchair. It was great, and also EFFECTIVE. reported that “Guinness’ “Friendship” was the most effective TV beer spot during the third quarter, according to Ace Metrix, which also ranked the ad No.1 when comparing how all other brands competed against their specific niches (beer versus beer, apparel versus apparel, retail versus retail, etc.). The 60-second spot, created by BBDO New York, features six guys playing wheelchair basketball, revealing in the end that only one of the men needs the mobility device to participate in the game. After the final buzzer, the group heads into a pub for a few post-basketball brews. Additionally, the commercial has garnered 7 million YouTube views in the last month.”

Some people in the disability community felt the Guinness commercial was patronizing, but many of us did not, and we understood that it takes “character“ to not leave your buddy behind when he’s no longer able to play the game like before.

This sentiment is the same under varying circumstances. Keeping a friendship in spite of change is not an easy task, and many just move on verses put in the work.

Another notable example is Honey Maid’s commercial featuring a Mom with a disability, Stephanie Woodward, cooking with her daughter.

We also LOVE how fashion brand Lilly Pulitzer recently used a real disabled woman/model/Mom/fashion blogger, Priscilla Hedlin, in their new campaign without any mention of disability. This is inclusion done right.

This post on their Instagram that includes a wheeler got 24,000 likes, which is more than their 2,000-3,000 average. Their inclusion also got them FREE publicity on Southern Living, the perfect target market for their clothing line.

“With all the buzz surrounding Lilly Pulitzer’s return to Target, you might have missed the most exciting aspect of the relaunch. In the far-right of the first ad for the collection, next to the flamingoes, the giraffe, the long-legged women, and giggling young girls, you’ll notice a smiling blonde. A beautiful blonde in a Lilly Pulitzer ad isn’t exactly noteworthy—but this one is in a wheelchair.” via Southern Living.

Then, we see New York Fashion Week designers having people with disabilities roll the runway for their clothing line. This, however, is more inspiration porn than actual inclusion. Models being used for the publicity of “being inclusive” instead of actually normalizing disability by using real, professional models who happen to be disabled (like the beautiful Shaholly Ayers).

Many companies are now creating lines that are specifically made for wheelchair users, featuring seamless pants, high rise waists, and longer leg lengths for sitting. This is wonderful, and much needed, but only when it works.

Target’s attempt at “Design For All” falls short of success. The pants have flat seams, no back pockets, longer leg length, and reviews say the material is good quality. Great! The bad news is that they don’t use models in wheelchairs, which is unfortunately inadequate and explains why non-disabled people mistakenly buying them! Consumers didn’t understand that they’re for wheelchair users, and complained about them being “too long”, when the added length is for those who sit and need it for their bent knees (as pictured below).

Again, it’s great that companies are beginning to make designs for us wheelers, but some insight and consultation with experts in disability would make these kinds of mistakes avoidable. Zappos also came out with an inclusive line called “Zappos Adaptive”, which according to Liz Jackson, founder of The Disabled List, had no disabled people consulting on the project.

So, now that the case has been made, let’s talk about what really works and what you should be doing in your business today, or as soon as possible, to show that you recognize that people with disabilities exist and that they’re also your potential customers.

Get a disability inclusive spokesperson, model, inventor, or entrepreneur on your team as a consultant to make your brand/product “REAL.” PLEASE pay them an equitable amount and don’t ask them to work for free or for free products. The practice of expecting people to be grateful for the opportunity to receive free products to promote on their social media channels is done far too much in disability culture, and it demonstrates a lack of respect for the time and value of those who may be taken advantage of just to be “included.”

Just be better.

Our PUSHLiving Advisors best practices advice:

  • Be inclusive, be real, be subtle, be fair, and be accurate.
  • Most of all, don’t be scared to try something new and different. Doing the right thing can also be the right move for your business, and it usually pays off.