Let them be cool—and hot
Jake Nielsen, a singer and guitarist in the band Jake Nielsen’s Triple Threat, was born with cerebral palsy and wants to see more representation of cool people with disabilities.
As a professional musician, Jake is challenging limiting stereotypes and inspiring people of all abilities to see what’s possible when you pursue your passions. “I love it when I tour and people with disabilities come up to me and are like, ‘I didn’t know someone with cerebral palsy could do that,’ and it inspires them to go do it,” he said. “If they had more of that in media, they’d want to give it a try instead of just being told they can’t do it.”
Jake also wants to break the stereotype that people with disabilities are aromantic. Many people with disabilities have healthy romantic relationships and sex lives, but those are rarely explored in media.
“Make [the kid in the wheelchair] cool for once,” Nielsen said. “Make him get a girlfriend.”
When it comes to disabilities, people can be so afraid to offend or so full of unnecessary pity, that they assume everything has to be serious.
But life is messy—and funny. Humor breaks the ice, helps everyone relate and brings us closer together. It’s human.
Ken and Daniel Trush, father-son duo and co-founders of DMF, strike an impressive balance between moving you to tears and making you laugh as they talk about their own experiences with disabilities, stemming from Danny’s coma as a 12-year-old.
Of course, you should be respectful as you should with any community, and you should include writers with disabilities and sensitivity readers in your process. But people with disabilities like to laugh too.
Think behind the scenes
Representation also includes who you’re hiring.
Hire actors, models and other creatives with disabilities. You get amazing talent, they get the opportunities they deserve and if you’re casting someone who uses a wheelchair in a role that uses a wheelchair, they’ll actually know how to use it.
Organizations such as Gamut Management, a consulting and talent management company for people with disabilities, offer expertise and firsthand perspectives for brands trying to become more inclusive. Just ask retail brand Kohl’s, which partnered with Gamut to design stylish adaptive clothing.
Inclusive representation of people with disabilities can help you connect with more people and shift larger narratives—making an impact not only on the disability community, but also on their loved ones and allies.
Brands have the power of representation. Use it for good.