The creative industries can lead the way on inclusivity for disabled people

Maltesers: ground-breaking activity
Maltesers: ground-breaking activity

Work such as Maltesers' ground-breaking ad from a year ago is few and far between. It's not good enough, says Channel 4 chief marketing and communications officer Dan Brooke.

Spot the disabled person. That’s it: turn on your TV, skittle through your social media or glance at a billboard and try and spot one. Hard isn’t it? Disabled people are invisible. In fact it’s almost as if they don’t exist.

Well, except in one important niche market: ‘real life’.

More than one billion people worldwide have a disability. In Britain that’s almost 1 in 5 of us. O.N.E. I.N. F.I.V.E.!

Yet, all around the world, disabled people are marginalised at best, excluded at worst and, for the most part, simply ignored by business.

There are pockets of excellence and good practice out there – arise Barclays, BT, Lloyds, Mars and Sainsbury’s – but to paraphrase the late, great Jay Chiat: Not enough is not good enough.

Business wields great power, creating jobs and affecting public attitudes. In a generation we’ve seen huge advances on climate change and gender and LGBTQI equality, for example. Bold business leadership has played a central role. Now it’s time we started noticing disabled people.

The creative industries are a particularly powerful force, because we tell human stories and affect minds and hearts. Yet I believe the creative industries are some of the worst offenders.

Ignorance not willfulness

Why? I think it’s ignorance, not willfulness, which is good news because it means we can change things by playing to our strengths: communicating.

At Channel 4 we’ve been doing our bit with programmes like the Paralympics, The Autistic Gardener and The Undateables, as well as having disabled people appear regularly on our most regular shows: C4 News, Hollyoaks and Come Dine with Me. And just as brilliant people, not "disabled people".

Last week, Channel 4 was proud to broadcast five commercials that enabled viewers to experience an ad break through the eyes of the two million Britons living with sight loss conditions.

We wanted people up and down the land to start conversations about what it must be like to live with these conditions, and for people with them to feel like their daily realities are important and worthy of mainstream debate.

We are passionate too about making it easier for brands to produce great ads featuring disabled people. Jonathan Allan and his brilliant team do it through Channel 4’s Annual Diversity in Advertising Award with £1m worth of free airtime to the best ad campaign that features disability. This year the focus is on hidden disabilities, won by Volvo, which will launch its campaign later this year.

The other side of championing disabled people is getting them into your business and then helping them get on.

Before we started our Paralympic journey, just 2% of Channel 4 staff disclosed as disabled. It’s now 11%. That’s a big jump. Partly we found and hired new people, partly we found some we already had, but didn’t know it. The disability charities told us there would be more disabled people working at Channel 4 than we thought. So we ran an internal campaign called "This Is Me" that removed the stigma from non-visible disabilities – such as depression, anxiety, dyslexia and ADHD – and persuaded people with them to "come out". It had a remarkable effect and has changed our culture.

Measurement is the first step on the path to enlightenment and I urge you to do the same in your company. I’d also urge companies to become Disability Confident employers – a Government-backed scheme which supports employers to make the most of the talents disabled people can bring to the workplace. And we should all encourage the IPA and the Advertising Association to start measuring disabled people in their industry censuses.

You could also join me in backing the #valuable campaign, led by entrepreneur and activist Caroline Casey, the Eighth Wonder of the World. She is also legally blind and is starting a global conversation with the business world, opening the minds of employers everywhere to how, by employing more disabled people, we can all make ourselves more innovative, more successful and more connected to the humanity of our customers. You can make a real difference just by encouraging your business to put disability on the boardroom agenda. #valuable is also seeking ten game-changing business leaders who will really champion the issue of disability in business around the world – could you be one of those ten?

Recognising the value of earth’s one billion disabled people is still a work in progress for business. As its diversity champion, I’m proud Channel 4 is at the vanguard of change.

Dan Brooke is Channel 4’s chief marketing and communications officer, board champion for diversity, and the Government’s Media Sector Disability Champion. He is a supporter of the #valuable campaign @valuabletribe

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