Ad industry has put disability on agenda, but there's still so much work to do

Ad industry has put disability on agenda, but there's still so much work to do

It has been a year since the Government appointed Sector Champions from different industries to raise awareness of disability. Sam Phillips reflects on her role as the ad industry's Sector Champion.

If you’re one of the 67% of Brits who’s uncomfortable with disability, read on.

If you’re one of the 24% of Brits who actively avoids talking to someone with a disability, read on.  

If you’re one of the 10 million people with a disability in Britain today, then I hope you’re seeing yourself reflected in an occasional ad break these days.

Take a bow Maltesers (whose ad is pictured above), Lloyds Banking Group, McCain and Paddy Power, via Omnicom’s Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, Adam & Eve/DDB and Lucky Generals, though these cracking pieces of work shouldn’t detract from the reality that there’s a long way to go before we can say that all our industry’s outputs reflect "real Britain".

If you’re one of the 19% of the British working population who has a disability… and is subsequently 2.5 times more likely to be unemployed… or if you spend much of your daily energy focused on covering up your disability… then I’m hopeful that the conversations our industry’s embarking on will lead to real change as realisation dawns that people who are different (but not worse) have skillsets and superpowers to be respected.     

Twelve months ago, I was honoured to be invited to become the Government’s inaugural Advertising Sector Champion for Disability.  

A full year in, the disability-related mountain to be climbed is only marginally less daunting.

But my reservoirs of hope have risen with each article penned, platform I’ve stood on and opportunity I’ve jumped at to bang the "where are all the disabled people?" drum.

Feedback has been heart-warming and I sense that people are edging forwards – though many still with trepidation – to say, "What can I do"?

I’ve learnt, through being invited to present at the Council of Europe’s meeting about media’s role in driving awareness of people with disabilities, that what we’re doing in the UK is setting new European standards – potentially new world standards – and that we’re therefore off and running on the right (possibly Paralympic) track.  

What excites me more than anything though is that, unlike five years ago, when I first spoke publicly about disability, there are now so many more people in the ad industry banging the drum.

In this past year, a raft of powerful voices have emerged, extraordinary personal stories have been told for the first time and plans to give voice to the differently abled have been hatched.

You’ll have read for yourself the stories of those who’ve worked in our business for years and who are finally feeling able to "admit" to their disability… their "difference".

Imagine what being able to be yourself – finally – feels like.

Imagine the talent that is still hiding its true colours behind our own doors or alternatively not even contemplating approaching our doors.

Imagine the stories we could write and how our targeting could improve if we really opened ourselves up to the range of disability difference.

By the way, the so-called "Purple Pound" is worth £80bn, so positive momentum in this area isn’t just the right thing to do morally, but commercially too.  

And whilst we’re imagining, let’s cast forwards.

Imagine the likely impact of our industry’s first-ever Diverse Minds conference on 1 March, which many of the UK’s biggest brands and agencies are attending.

This all-day conference was conceived on the back of a breakfast meeting about neurodiversity led by Ali Hanan of Creative Equals and Roxanne Hobbs of Hobbs Consultancy and sponsored by OPEN (Omnicom People Engagement Network) UK.

In May, those of you attending Media 360 in Brighton will get to see a fireside chat with Sarah Newton, Minister of State for Disabled People, Health and Work.  

And those of you who’re attending the Global Festival of Media in Rome will note that the event launches with a keynote about disability.

The volume on disability is most definitely dialed up.

This week, ministers and Sector Champions are coming together on 22 February for an anniversary event at Channel 4’s headquarters to reflect on the progress that we have made, so it feels timely to say thank you to all those who’ve powered the disability in advertising and communications groundswell in this past year.

Credit should go to politicians and civil servants including Penny Morduant, the minister who conceived the idea of Sector Champions, and Sarah Newton her successor; to brand leaders including Michele Oliver at Mars, Dan Brooke at Channel 4 and Ros King at Lloyds Banking Group; and to many others including Marianne Waite, Sulaiman Khan, Mike Alhadeff, Rick Williams and Caroline Casey.

To anyone reading this who "gets it" and wants to help drive disability inclusion, then come on over that parapet and join in as we change the story for and about disabled people.

No more "them". Because they’re us. We’re us.

Sam Phillips is chief marketing officer of Omnicom Media Group UK, chair of OPEN (Omnicom People Engagement Network) UK, and the Government’s Advertising Sector Champion for Disability








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