‘Ask, Don’t Assume’ launched to challenge perceptions around disability

The new campaign, created by M&C Saatchi, is powered by the lived experiences of disabled people.

Nicola Kemp

Editorial Director Creativebrief


Stereotypes matter because they stop people from achieving their full potential. For disabled people in advertising, stereotyping or invisibility has long been the status quo for the industry. For an industry built on its ability to meaningfully connect with consumers this status quo means that assumptions, rather than creativity, are holding the industry back.

This National Inclusion Week a new campaign, developed in partnership with Disabled People is being launched to encourage people to become allies to disabled people. 

The government-backed campaign features prominent disability influencers who have helped to both develop the messaging and star in its ads. This includes thought-provoking slogans crafted in collaboration with each influencer. All are supported by images skilfully captured by renowned photographer Ian Trehearne who, due to his Type 2 Usher Syndrome, also goes by the pseudonym ‘The Blind Photographer’. 

It's vital for people to understand that everyone has individual needs. Simply listening and not making assumptions can immensely improve the lives of disabled people.

Niall Aslam

Assumptions are the death of creativity

Entitled ‘Ask, Don't Assume,’ the campaign aims to raise awareness of the everyday assumptions faced by disabled people. It offers practical guidance for allies who are keen to do the right thing.  

Research shows that in the past five years, three-quarters of disabled individuals have encountered negative attitudes and behaviours. Experiences included underestimating a disabled person’s intellectual ability or capabilities in many environments including school, university and the workplace.

Other microaggressions include guiding a blind person without asking first, pushing someone in a wheelchair without first checking they need it and asking intrusive questions about someone’s disability. While often well-intentioned, these behaviours can be hurtful to those with disabilities. So the message of the campaign is equal parts  simple and powerful: ‘Please don’t be afraid to just ask us how you can help!’

The campaign stars influencers and celebrities with a diverse range of disabilities, such as former Love Islander, Niall Aslam. He explained: "I've experienced situations where assumptions about autism, coupled with a lack of understanding, has placed me in very challenging circumstances. I believe many of these situations could have been avoided. It's vital for people to understand that everyone has individual needs. Simply listening and not making assumptions can immensely improve the lives of disabled people. I'm really hopeful that this campaign can make strides in promoting that understanding and awareness."

The campaign, which is backed by the Government’s Equality Hub, has put those with disabilities front and centre in shaping the work. 

Tom Pursglove MP, Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work added: “It is key that disabled people are treated with the same dignity and respect as anyone else. Far too often they suffer from other people's assumptions about their capability and what they can or can't do.

He continued: “That is why it is vital that we ask rather than assume when interacting with disabled people. As a Government, we are delighted to have worked alongside a number of inspiring disabled people and disability focussed organisations to develop this campaign, and together I hope we can start an important national conversation about how we can all become better allies to disabled people.”

Joining Niall Aslam, the campaign also features visually impaired influencer Claire Sisk, model and disabled sports star Ashley Archer, and Catrin Pugh, who at age 19 was left with 95% burns after surviving a devastating coach crash. Prominent disability organisations such as Autistic Nottingham, SAMEE, RSN and Disability Peterborough have also been closely involved in shaping the campaign.

Co-creating the campaign with the influencers was a huge priority. Ashley Archer expresses his support of this approach: "I am so happy about this campaign. Sometimes I am asked to do stuff but I don’t always get to give my opinion. Being part of the creative process was great because it gave me the chance to speak about the issues affecting us. "

The ‘Ask, Don't Assume’ campaign launches with life-size posters on streets of London and  the West Midlands on the 26th September and will be supported with digital and social activity.

The campaign's visual storytelling was entrusted to the talented blind photographer, Ian Trehearne, who explained: “In life, personally and professionally, it’s always me adapting to the able bodied world, working around other people. This project felt like the commercial world was finally adapting and working with me. Small considerations make big changes.”

To read more about Trehearne’s experience of the campaign and the importance of lived experience in advertising please click here

Agencies Featured