Written by Celestine Fraser, published on 16 September 2022
During the spring of 2022, a series of giant billboards in fluorescent colors appeared in public spaces across the USA. Their design was eye-catching and their message was clear: “Dear entertainment industry, there is no diversity, equity and inclusion without disability”.
Officially launched in May, Disability is Diversity is a new campaign released by the Inevitable Foundation, a non-profit organisation whose goal is to fund and mentor Disabled screenwriters. Through fellowships, research and advocacy, the foundation seeks to urgently redress the Disability representation gap: although Disabled people make up 20% of the population, less than 1% of screenwriters are Disabled.
The Disability is Diversity campaign has two main goals. First, it seeks to recognise disability as a key tenet of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion conversation and strategy. Second, it aims to recognise disability as an essential pillar of diversity and to celebrate the diversity that exists within the Disabled community itself.
The campaign has so far appeared in the form of print ads and editorials in magazines – including Variety and The Hollywood Reporter – and on billboards in iconic spots like The Grove in Los Angeles and New York’s Times Square. The campaign also included a series of audio ads which featured on Spotify and provided an accessible alternative to the posters.
Disability is Diversity was conceived by an international collective of Deaf and Disabled creatives, including Tilting the Lens Founder and CEO Sinéad Burke as strategist. The team combined their lived experience, creativity and professional expertise to design an innovative campaign which champions Disability representation at every stage of its process. Most significantly, the Disability is Diversity campaign was devised by an all-Disabled creative team.
“We all acknowledged each other with such ease and there was a wide breadth for everyone to contribute and participate meaningfully,” says artist and designer Ravi Vasavan, one of the creatives behind the campaign. Though Ravi admits that disability exists across “a wide spectrum”, the team found “nearly-universal threads and links between [their] large array of disabilities” because they shared an “innate understanding of what disability struggle is like at its core”.
Aubrie Lee, a brand manager at Google and President of Google’s Disability Alliance, echoes Ravi: “While no two people’s entire experience of disability is exactly the same – even among people with the same diagnosis – we do share experiences that only those who have lived our lives will truly understand.”
Disabled people have often recognised a link between disability and creativity or innovation. Aubrie quotes the proverb “Necessity is the mother of invention” and adds that in her opinion, “Disability is the mother of invention.” Ravi agrees that “Disabled people are everyday hackers. We instinctively seek out solutions and make it happen through our own ingenuity.”
So what makes Disability representation authentic? Ravi insists on the necessity for Disabled people to have “a seat at the table,” but adds that this cannot be “as a plug-in” but rather as a “full-fledged role in the process”. He explains that accessibility must be built early into the creative process so that “there is no need for self-advocating, or explaining… We get to do our work, in whatever expertise or speciality we have, unencumbered.”
To Aubrie, authentic Disability representation in film and television involves rejecting stories which have an “abled gaze” (a parallel to the male gaze) and replacing them instead with stories which are “told by and for members of the Disabled community.” As an example, this could look like “inside jokes [which] only Disabled people will get.”
The Disability is Diversity campaign sends a bold and unapologetic message to Hollywood and the wider industry. With disruptive billboards, ads and posters, the campaign is bringing visibility and some long-overdue representation to Disabled people in film and television. On the question of authentic Disability representation, Aubrie leaves no doubt: “The most authentic stories about Disabled people are the ones told by Disabled people.”
To learn more about Disability is Diversity:
Website – Link to Disability is Diversity website
Instagram – Link to Disability is Diversity Instagram
To learn more about Ravi:
Website – Link to Ravi’s website
Instagram – Link to Ravi’s Instagram
To learn more about Aubrie:
Website – Link to Aubrie’s website
Instagram – Link to Aubrie’s Instagram