“Ask questions. Don’t make assumptions. Let’s tell the stories of our lived experiences.” This advice from Becky Kekula, Director of the Disability Equality Index at Disability: IN, was repeated by all panelists during the Disability Inclusion Summit on Wednesday.

The event is part of Adweek’s ongoing DEI series. In the past, black executives talked about how to cope amid social unrest, Adweek’s LGBTQ + Pride Stars talked about progress and next steps, Asian American executives talked about overcoming stereotypes, and Hispanic / Latinx executives who have their individuality while sharing their common voice Find.

For the Disability Inclusion Summit, eight marketing and advertising executives brought their hearts and perspectives forward and shared the virtual stage to share their personal experiences and improve feelings in areas where progress is to be made.

Panelists included:
Becky Kekula, Director, Disability Equality Index
KR Liu, Head of Brand Accessibility, Google’s Brand Studio
Josh Loebner, strategy director, design sensory
Christina Mallon, global director of inclusive design and accessibility, Wunderman Thompson
Russell Shaffer, director of global culture, diversity and inclusion, Walmart
Storm Smith, producer, BBDO LA
Bryan Stromer, product marketing manager at Microsoft
Tiffany Yu, CEO and Founder of Diversability

The conversation started with the current state of the representation of disabilities in marketing and advertising. Smith of BBDO LA shared how “55% of people feel uncomfortable seeing people with disabilities in advertisements or on screen.” She went on to share the importance of representations with a huge responsibility for marketers and advertisers today goes hand in hand.

Mallon, who is also chief brand officer at inclusive apparel company Open Style Lab, noted that while disabilities don’t always have to be the focus of your storytelling, there is a way that standard narrative is challenged.

“There are really two depictions that we see in advertisements: the superhero … or the emphasis on someone doing an average thing despite their disability,” she explained. “The second is the victim.” She went on to advise that you can create advertisements about someone with a disability, “but it has to be aspiration, not inspiration.”

Microsoft’s Stromer reminds attendees that accurate representations start from within. “My # 1 advice is to hire more people with disabilities,” he said. “We need people with disabilities who write their own stories and not have them written for them.”

The thought of really working with members of this community was at the forefront of the panelists’ advice. Yu from Diversibility noted that even the term “inclusion” can be limiting: “It invites me to move into a space where the norms and culture are already set, rather than creating and building together.”

The group shared some campaign and branding samples of authentic display, including a New York subway campaign from wedding planning website Zola, Tommy Hilfiger’s Adaptive Line, and Aerie’s Ambassadors / Models.

Google’s Liu extended the portrayal by saying that the people behind the camera are just as critical as the people on the screen. “[We need people] not just like me as a white, strange, hard of hearing woman; I can’t speak for a black disabled woman [and] I can’t speak for another race or as someone I don’t identify with, ”she explained. “I have to use my place at the table to get these people a place at my table so they can help with the conversation.”

The topic of recruiting and promoting people with disabilities in the context of advertising and marketing careers emerged. Loebner from Designsensory mentioned how people with disabilities can have a huge impact on marketing regardless of what role they play in the organization: “I don’t have connectivity to disabilities in my title, but I’m an advocate for it.” He added added: “Where do people with disabilities belong in advertising? They belong everywhere. ”

The group also discussed the impact of Covid-19 on the community and the implications for the future of work. Walmart’s Shaffer noted that he is optimistic that more companies are open to flexible and remote work arrangements that would allow more people with disabilities to be employed from anywhere.

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