The Lost Voice campaign by Apple

Are brands taking disability representation seriously?

Despite all the talk of progress on inclusivity and a series of high-profile campaigns, people with disabilities – who make up the biggest minority group in the world – remain chronically underrepresented in advertising

It’s been over a decade since Channel 4’s landmark Meet the Superhumans campaign promoting the London 2012 Paralympics. Tasked with addressing the public’s lack of awareness and indifference to the games, the ad was celebrated not only for bringing disability into popular culture but for doing so with a sense of fun. “If you want to look at what makes change happen for any community, funding is a huge one. It got people watching the Paralympics, which led to people caring about the Paralympics, which led to funding the Paralympics, which then meant we as a country started funding sport for disabled people. That is incredible to me,” says VML creative inclusivity director Jamie June Hill.

Since then, the conversation around how disabilities ought to be portrayed has moved on a huge amount, with ads that lean into the ‘superpower’ narrative often receiving criticism for being reductive. Despite this, the stats around disability representation in advertising are still depressingly low overall. In the UK, only 4% of people in ad campaigns are disabled compared to 22% of the overall population being disabled. And recent research by Ipsos and the Business Disability Forum found that less than a quarter of people with a disability surveyed felt images of disabled people used in content they had seen, watched or read reflected their own experience.