Any decent marketing campaign knows its audience and connects with them, but a great marketing campaign is one that targets as many potential customers as possible. Despite this, many campaigns still fail to include the disabled by creating adverts that don’t represent disabled people and creating websites that disabled people can’t use. These two challenges, diversity and accessibility, represent a key demographic that is currently neglected. Which campaigns are brave enough to feature diversity and promote accessibility? And what do they get in return?

Web Accessibility

The Office of National Statistics has confirmed that 27% of disabled adults don’t know how to use the internet compared to 11% of non-disabled adults. For people who are blind, partially sighted, deaf, have cognitive disabilities, or have limited movement, using the internet can be difficult. As a result, web accessibility is something that all companies marketing online should be thinking about right now. The BBC have produced a guide detailing what web accessibility is. Among other things, the font needs to be clearly readable, screen reading software needs to be able to navigate the site easily, and people should be able to navigate the site without using a mouse.

According to Professor Hassell, an expert in website accessibility, failure to make your website accessible leaves you vulnerable to a 20% drop in potential custom. He goes on to claim that the vast majority of website accessibility is not enough as it is targeted, mainly, at people with visual impairments. Though this is a great thing to do, he claims that visually impaired people only represent a small percentage of the disabled population. He calls for simpler design of websites which are more streamlined and more accessible to people of varying levels of ability. Moreover, he states that this simplicity is not just good for the disabled, but good for business in general. This is something that Apple have always known, as simplicity is key to their success as well as their brand image. Apple market themselves as simple and, by extension, accessible. As a result, it is not surprising to discover that Apple products have been rated as the best for accessibility.

Advertising Diversity

However, online marketers need to do more than make their websites accessible to disabled people; diversity is also a very important, and often overlooked factor. Disabled model, Shannon Murray, agrees with this sentiment and writes in The Independent that “if you judged the world on advertising, you wouldn’t know disabled people exist”. That is a pretty damning report on the state of advertising, yet Murray sticks by it, going on to claim that “advertisers are generally reluctant to use a disabled model unless the product is targeting disabled customers”. She cites the inclusion of Valentina Guerrero, a ten month old girl with Down’s syndrome, on the front page US fashion catalogue as a positive but still newsworthy step in the right direction. She also refers to a gradual shift in attitudes propelled by the success of the 2012 paralympic games. Yet, with regard to the Paralympics, she argues that this is only “a particular image of disability, the healthy, athletic hero or heroine” and asks “Where’s the dad with disability driving his kids to school?”

Stories of heroic disabled athletes doing the impossible are great, but stories of disabled people should go beyond the exceptional and be about overcoming everyday odds. In marketing, this rule has always applied to non-disabled people. Coca-Cola has an advert about non-disabled people overcoming everyday negativity, Subway has an advert about a non-disabled woman overcoming everyday pickiness and Mars has an advert about a non-disabled person overcoming everyday dog training. It makes sense that disabled people would want this kind of representation too. Adverts representing the disabled should be about normality. They should be about the average day. In other words, it should be the same as the representation of non-disabled people.

This is exactly what disability-charity Scope aims to achieve with an online campaign for more disabled models in adverts, and other online advertisers would be wise to follow this trend. There are profitable reasons, such as the extra money that can be made by companies who utilise disabled diversity in their marketing, but that is not why this kind of diversity should be embraced. The reason is that it is the moral thing to do. Advertising is changing, as adverts move from television to online video, and this could see online marketing take over television marketing. In doing so, online marketers should lead by example. The online advertising revolution could be coupled with another revolution: the revolution for diversity and accessibility in marketing.


By Dave Jones, founder of Mobility Nationwide