Celebrating the UN’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities

The UN’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities takes place on the 3rd of December each year. First launched nearly three decades ago, the event recognises both visible and invisible disabilities with the aim of promoting the importance of inclusion in life and the workplace.

Sadly, the estimated 14.6 million people living with disabilities in the UK continue to face many barriers to such inclusion, and with advertising’s reach and power to influence comes a responsibility to set the right tone. In this spirit, read on for some advice to ensure the CAP Code is front of mind when referencing disability in your advertising.

Avoid harmful tropes and stereotypes

Disability is a protected characteristic under The Equality Act 2010 and is listed in the Codes as something which advertisers must ensure that they do not present in a way which is likely to cause serious or widespread offence.

To that end, advertisers should take particular care to avoid negative stereotypes or generalisations about people with disabilities.  A Halloween outfit which featured restraining belt, shackles, and face mask was advertised as an “Adult Skitzo Costume”; the ASA considered that this presented a negative stereotype of mental illness by implying that those who suffered from schizophrenia were violent and murderous.

Tone & execution are key

The tone and execution of an ad can be key when determining whether that ad might be considered offensive. While advertisers are increasingly mindful of the need to represent people with disabilities in their campaigns, care should be taken to avoid a discord between representation versus role.

For instance, using disability in a flippant way will be seen as trivialising the issue - and as such, is likely to be considered offensive. A Paddy Power ad which featured the pun “MONEY BACK IF HE WALKS” (in relation to the trial of Oscar Pistorius) was upheld by the ASA because it considered that it made light of disability.

Similarly, any content which could be seen to belittle people with a disability or imply that they cannot perform everyday tasks will be problematic, as will mimicking individuals based on their disability (whether visible or otherwise).

Remember to consider accessibility

As well as ensuring that ads do not cause offence, they must not mislead. Ads may be misleading if they omit material information; in some circumstances, details around accessibility may be deemed material. Whilst the ASA always considers ads on a case-by-case basis, marketers should always consider whether such information is necessary for a consumer to make an informed decision.  The medium in which the ad appears is likely to have an impact on this, too, as demonstrated by an upheld ASA ruling concerning an ad for a holiday which appeared in a disability lifestyle magazine which failed to state that the holiday was unsuitable for certain access requirements.

Further help

CAP is here to support the industry in complying with the rules as it takes steps to improve the representation of people with disabilities in advertising. For bespoke advice, the Copy Advice team is always happy to help.

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