Seven rules for representation from an author, advertiser and advocate

Posted 9 months ago by David McManus
Lisa Cox has seven recommendations for the advertising, media and communications world, based on her experience as the Disability Affairs Officer at Media Diversity Australia. [Source: Newshub]
Lisa Cox has seven recommendations for the advertising, media and communications world, based on her experience as the Disability Affairs Officer at Media Diversity Australia. [Source: Newshub]

Key points

  • Lisa believes that natural inclusion is key to the positive representation of people with disability
  • Globally, people living with disability make up 20 percent of media audiences, but visible disability representation sits at less than one percent across media, according to Nielsen data
  • Ms Cox is a former agency advertiser, TEDx speaker, author, executive producer and internationally acclaimed disability advocate


Communications all-rounder, Lisa Cox said the 2023 Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity had come a long way since it started back in 1954. Her career was built through ensuring the media landscape kept up with the pace of progress, in service of positive representation.

Ms Cox said the kind of media consumed by audiences can drastically change the spending habits and return on investment for advertisers through the use of positive inclusion.

“Recently, I went out with a group of friends for dinner and drinks, but I chose the restaurant based on an advertisement I’d seen the week before. I was the only disabled person in that group and together, we spent quite a bit on dinner that night,” Lisa said.

“Compelling disability representation provides an opportunity for brands to challenge societal norms and break away from the crowd. This approach can generate positive buzz, attract media attention, and differentiate brands from their competitors.”

Lisa’s seven rules to subvert sub-par advertising which features people with disability are designed to inspire creativity without losing good intentions through poor execution. She strongly believes that there is a scale for representation, which either downplays or exaggerates the qualities of people with disabilities — either as heroic paragons of paralympic might or as helpless victims. Instead, she said, advertisers just need to normalise the significant audience demographic as a part of their creative toolkit.


Authenticity and diversity

Lisa strongly recommends the diverse inclusion of many forms of disability, rather than generally picking one person with a visible disability and calling it a day. Make media look like the world outdoors and people will believe in the world being created by an advertiser.


Avoid tokenism

Some creative works include ‘tokenism,’ which basically means that a person with disability, a woman, person of colour or marginalised group is brought in to offset criticism regarding a lack of representation. Ms Cox told those in the industry to avoid tokenism in shooting, by making sure the camera doesn’t hold still on a person with physical disability in a performative attempt to signpost how inclusive the ad is trying to be.


Positive storytelling

Advertisers should move beyond pity or inspiration to promote inclusivity. Lisa said creators should look at overcoming the ordinary day-to-day challenges of life with a disability and speak with the community for insight.


Collaboration and consultation

Engaging with disability organisations, experts, and the disabled community itself is crucial. Collaborating and seeking input from these stakeholders means advertisers can make adverts successful before they’ve even made the work.

“I spent the first part of my life and my advertising career without physical disabilities, so I know what it feels like to have a question about what to say or how to say it, but be too afraid to ask it because I didn’t want to offend anyone. For that reason, I can really empathise with my audiences,” said Lisa.


Educate and raise awareness

It’s all well and good to get educated on disability representation, but how will the rest of the team know? Ms Cox suggested investing in staff education and spreading the word to make sure everyone on-site is aware of what and how a message is spread.


Normalise disability

“Yes, people with disabilities travel, drive cars, shop for clothes, have families, use technology for work or home and plenty more but advertising is almost completely void of signs of disability,” Lisa said.

“As someone who spends far more time than the average consumer watching and reading about advertising, you can be sure that there are very few brands whose strategy has previously included the disability community. Our disability dollars are waiting for smart businesses to realise our value and worth. As I said in my TEDx Talk, my legs don’t work but my credit card does.”


Accessible marketing materials

Ms Cox saved the best piece of advice for her seventh advertising rule — why work so hard to lose your audience through a lack of captions, audio descriptions and alternative text assistance? Break new ground in the industry by serving people with disability a way to engage with your work.