Seeing the Value of the Industry Blindspot

I’ll be transparent. The start of my first day of Advertising Week was slightly uncomfortable. 

I entered a room set for one hundred, filled with just nine, as three CEOs sat on a dark stage because, of course, the light tech was nowhere to be found. 

I looked to the other eight people around me in desperation, to see if we all felt this same awkwardness—and it was clear we did.

Caroline Casey, CEO of The Valuable 500, embraced the situation and began her talk in darkness by addressing the irony. This uncomfortable moment we were experiencing was a parallel to just one of the reasons they were on the stage—to discuss the uncomfortable truth.

15% of the world has a disability—be it seen or unseen. That’s roughly one billion people. And while there are so many people living with disabilities, our cars, hotels, and furniture tend to be designed for the abled, leaving accessibility as an afterthought. Or no thought at all.

Caroline, who is legally blind, recognized that her disability was something that was covered up throughout her life and therefore decided to help destigmatize disabilities and encourage people to talk about them. As a part of that she founded the The Valuable 500, which is a “global movement putting disability on the business leadership agenda.” To date, they have 101 CEOs pledging to address accessibility in the work they do.

Many companies like to be “Diver-ish.” Meaning they want to be selectively inclusive of some types of people within a company, group or business, depending on which type suits the company best. 

Check out their satirical video about it. You’ll cringe. Mainly because you’ve definitely seen or heard this before.

Caroline was joined on stage by Charles Trevail, Global CEO of Interbrand, and Amit Mashiah, CEO of McCann Tel-Aviv.

Charles discussed watching his close friend with ALS experience multiple challenges in a world that was not designed for him. He realized when traveling together, hotels would claim to be accessible, though it was often not true. Together, they began charting a list of all the improvements that could be done whenever they ran into a hiccup. These experiences revealed how many companies are looking to check a box and claim to be accessible, without actually following through. He admitted, that when it becomes personal, we want to fight to take on that responsibility to make the world more accessible. And so he did. And brought this responsibility into the work he focuses on today with Interbrand.

Part of making it personal is bringing the disabled to the table.

Amit Mashiah discussed the award winning campaign that he directed with McCann and IKEA, called “ThisAbles.”

The idea was pitched by a copywriter from their team, Eldar, who lives with cerebral palsy. He discussed how modifications like bigger light switches, easier-to-grab handles and sofa leg extenders, help make products from IKEA more usable by people with disabilities and that, as client partners, this campaign would help reduce common struggles for a huge sector of people. 

So they did just that. They created 3D printed add-ons for everyday furniture that you can attach to furniture. Even better, they released the downloadable files for anyone to print and use on their own.

Take a moment to watch the video here. I will warn you that I definitely wish I had a tissue with me.

We all know what it’s like to be “other.” As employees and leaders in our companies, it’s our duty to hire people that are different than us. We need to hire those with different experiences, different views and different abilities.

If not, we’ll continue to design for people in our own bubble, versus the people of the world.