Recently, I had the opportunity to be a presenter at both AdColor and the Association of National Advertisers Multicultural Marketing & Diversity Conference.
As an African-American woman working in creative who also happens to be deaf, it was a chance to discuss the intersection of diversity and inclusion, the failure to include people with disabilities in the workspace and in advertising, and to identify ways to increase accessibility.
Following the ANA presentation, a senior digital director approached me with tears in his eyes, thanking me for sharing my personal story. After learning that people with disabilities are the most disadvantaged in society (not to mention that approximately 74 percent of people with disabilities are unemployed) he said, “We forget. We just forget. And that is just wrong.”
Awareness is the first step to “Be the change.” Here are three more:
Attend and participate in events that attract diverse talent
I was introduced to BBDO in 2016 when I met the agency’s executive VP for diversity and inclusion at the Lights! Camera! Access! event—a Clinton Foundation initiative designed to address underrepresentation of people with disabilities in media. At the time I was a creative video producer for the office of the president at my alma mater, Gallaudet University.
He invited me to meet at BBDO to have coffee and a conversation. I had no idea what we would talk about; there wasn’t an agenda. After the meeting, I was extended an offer to join the agency’s Creative Residence Program, which provides real on-the-job experience. The BBDO executive believed my talents and value would benefit the agency and its clients. My life changed that day.
There are so many events that attract diverse talents, including people with disabilities. Attend them. Get to know the people. Hire them. They might someday bring home the Cannes Lion you covet.
Unpack your biases. Don’t be afraid of what you don’t know
Address the elephant in the room. Ask yourself questions like, What are we not doing? What can we actually do? What is the action plan for inclusivity? What are my personal biases?
Unconscious biases influence our decision-making. For example, a survey found that 55 percent of consumers think there aren’t more people with physical disabilities in ads because they “make people uncomfortable.” Clearly, they haven’t been exposed to people with disabilities, who are quite comfortable in their own skin. There is a huge opportunity for brands to be brave.
Realize that inclusivity includes accommodations and accessibility
From apps to software to hardware or any type of machine, there are technologies to support employees with disabilities. Just ask what is needed.
My accommodations have included American sign-language interpreters (both in person and virtually), the “Make It Big” app that enlarges type size, and any voice-to-text app that translates spoken words into text for quick communication.
I am fortunate and grateful to BBDO for its continuous support. The experience has facilitated my transformation into a vocal and passionate advocate for wanting to make a difference. At AdColor, it was the first time the conference had sign language interpreters on stage to accompany a woman of color with a disability on a panel session. It was a win/win because, at the end of the day, accessibility is a human right.
There is still so much work to do. Hopefully, these three steps can get you started. Inclusive brands, campaigns and workspaces bring serious returns, so don’t miss the mark. Be the change.