Voices

Making your brand truly accessible this Disability Pride Month and beyond

Disabled people are not being consulted on the design of products they use; nor on the campaigns explicitly aimed at them, writes Charlotte Bunyan.

Charlotte Bunyan, Cult

Chief Strategy Officer

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Diversity and Inclusion continues, rightly,  to be a hot topic across the creative industry, yet disability is often overlooked. Both Channel 4 and now ITV have been seeking to redress this with wider representation in TV advertising. ITV’s own data has shown that while some 20% of the UK has a disability, it is still highly underrepresented on screen, especially in a positive light.

The recently unveiled Channel 4 Paralympics ad is somewhat of a masterpiece but is not yet the norm. There are deeper issues when it comes to creative thinking around disability which need to be addressed. Specifically, how can creatives seek to connect with these audiences without understanding their experiences and lives first-hand? As July is Disability Pride month, now is the perfect opportunity to bring disability under the spotlight in order for brands to understand how they can provide a more truly accessible and inclusive experience – not just as a moral imperative, but to enable them to tap into a growing market that is vastly underserved.

And it’s not just brands that need to listen. While 1 billion people, 15% of the world’s population, experience some form of disability (and this is expected to double by 2050), there is a huge challenge globally with systemic ableism and discrimination against disabled people.

As July is Disability Pride month, now is the perfect opportunity to bring disability under the spotlight in order for brands to understand how they can provide a more truly accessible and inclusive experience – not just as a moral imperative, but to enable them to tap into a growing market that is vastly underserved.

Charlotte Bunyan, Chief Strategy Officer at Cult

The power of digital content

Although accessibility goes well beyond digital, it’s a good place to start. From voice to visual to virtual, improving the accessibility of digital content reaps rewards with all customers. Simple steps such as including accessibility widgets on your website, including text readers and tagging all your imagery, as well as separating hashtags with capital letters, also known as CamelHumping,  #ForScreenReadingEase, are easy ones to take to ensure more can find and enjoy what you have to offer.

Incorporating more intuitive and inclusive design, such as default alt-image tags and best in class captioning into media platforms like Instagram and Facebook, are simple ways for brands to create accessible content, and weave these into all social campaigns.

With voice-based shopping predicted to show exponential growth in the coming years, jumping to $40 billion in 2022, and digital accessibility set to remain a key issue, alternative shopping avenues need to become swiftly embedded into brand strategies.

End-to-End Accessibility

Only recently has technology been developed and harnessed in order to enable product accessibility to a truly meaningful level. Building it into your whole brand experience and product lifecycle is crucial. Most importantly, it starts with having people with disabilities in your team; carrying out social listening and audience research into your disabled consumers, adapting and creating products from scratch that cater to their needs – including the packaging.

Next, every brand and marketing touchpoint must be considered to ensure that it is as inclusive and accessible as possible and this also means representation in advertising and marketing; from models used to the choice of words. The Little Book of Ableism by Victoria Jenkins, Founder of Unhidden Clothing, is an important read for this.

Better design and product accessibility ultimately benefit a much wider audience. For example, some may have temporary disabilities caused by short-term injuries, and most of us as we age will find manual dexterity, hearing and vision can deteriorate. Better accessibility is ultimately better for everyone. Those brands that have ingrained accessibility fully into their business are the ones not only to deliver to an underserved demographic, but often these products, having gone through a more robust design process, become successful on the wider market – think Oxo Good Grip or the recent Nike Fly-Go Ease.

Accessibility in practice

When we do see brands investing in accessible product design, we see some really industry-leading innovation. Take the recent accessible Kellogg’s cereal boxes, for blind and partially sighted people, allowing users to identify the cereals via a phone app that can be directed at any part of the box. Unilever's first adaptive deodorant brand, Degree, has been designed for people with visual impairment and upper limb motor disabilities, while Olive and June’s accessible nail varnish holder is designed for those with mobility issues yet also increases their appeal for a wider market, and anyone who would like a better grip for steady nail polish application.

In turn, as more brands focus on representation, campaign imagery then becomes more inclusive. Cult has worked with Zebedee Management on several campaigns, and cannot praise them highly enough. Zebedee is a talent agency represeřnting those who have been excluded from the media, their books include people from disabled and trans/non-binary communities, and with alternative appearances.

Driving change

So when the business case is clear and the value of greater inclusion and accessibility also benefits the wider population, why is uptake still so slow?

Unfortunately one of the key reasons that we don’t see more accessible products and campaigns is that co-design and consultation with people with disabilities is far too uncommon. Disabled people are not being consulted on the design of products they use; nor on the campaigns explicitly aimed at them.

Collectively, as an industry, we can do better. We must recruit more people with disabilities into our industry so that we truly begin to get a better understanding of the audiences that we're so woefully underserving right now. And we must commit to taking the smaller steps every single time when creating and presenting our businesses and our products that serve disabled communities better – every month, not just this one.

Guest Author

Charlotte Bunyan, Cult

Chief Strategy Officer,

About

Charlotte Bunyan is Chief Strategy Officer at independent creative agency Cult, which has a particular focus on fashion, beauty, luxury and wellness brands across the globe. She also leads their innovation arm, Cult Futures, which combines trend forecasting with an innovation incubator to develop new products and services for brands.