There is something about the back to school season. Whether it has been years since you last entered a classroom or you are in the middle of your educational life, September feels like a time of renewal and excitement.
It’s also a time of bombardment of images in back to school ads. And as you look at that imagery, and listen to those commercials, and really pay attention, you’ll notice that something… something is missing.
Canadians with disabilities
Everybody wants a chance to be heard. Everybody wants a chance to be seen.
But for 6.2 million Canadians, those chances are too few and too far between.
In Canada, 22% of the population is living with a disability—more than a fifth of the population—but far fewer are seen in the media.
According to a report by GLAAD, out of the characters on primetime TV (during the 2018-2019 season) only 2.1 per cent had disabilities. And only 4.8 per cent of characters with a disability were played by actors who had the disability in real life.
But let’s go beyond the numbers and try to understand what this really means. For 6.2 million Canadians this means they are barely seen, being excluded from roles they should be playing, and barely being given a platform to share their realities.
Not only do we need to raise those numbers, we need to do more to create fair and accurate portrayals of characters with disabilities in the media. Characters with disabilities are not “heroes overcoming the odds” or objects of pity. Characters with disabilities live the full range of human experience, with feelings, relationships, needs, joys, sorrows, independence and dependence. They are children, siblings, friends, students, co-workers and more.
And it is time we saw all of that.
That is why we at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital are once again provoking a conversation.
As one of Canada’s Top 40 children’s research hospitals, we spend countless hours looking at how to improve and enable healthy and meaningful futures for children and families.
But we also spend countless hours advocating for child health and social change.
That is why I am excited to announce the launch of our third Dear Everybody campaign. A national movement, Dear Everybody drives forward the anti-stigma conversation, pushing boundaries and breaking barriers, building on Holland Bloorview’s values of courage, resilience, and equality.
The families and clients who enter our doors have always brought so much richness and are constantly effecting change within our walls. From Dear Everybody’s inception, it was important to us that kids and families co-create our campaign. They matter and we wanted them to know their voices do too.
Three years later, we can say that is still at a forefront of our movement.
They’ve spoken, we listened, and now it’s time to share.
This year, Dear Everybody is taking on the advertising industry. We are asking brands and organizations to help us build a more diverse and inclusive media landscape.
While it excites me that Ali Stroker took home a Tony award and shows like Special and Speechless are making waves in the industry, we still have a long way to go to ensure more actors with disabilities, like George, are given the opportunities to achieve their career goals.
This year, we are encouraging casting agencies to consider accessibility when picking locations. We are encouraging brands to include people with disabilities in their “every day” ads. We are encouraging you to challenge your favourite brands to think about inclusion in their advertising. Why shouldn’t your favourite sneaker brand feature an athlete with a prosthetic limb or your favourite cosmetics brand a young woman wearing an awesome lipstick, who happens to use a wheelchair?
YOU can make a difference
Even the smallest of actions can have a big impact!
I hope you’ll take a small step today and join the movement by visiting DearEverybody.ca and signing the Dear Everybody Agreement.
Once you do share the campaign with your family and friends, especially on social media, read the tip sheets and resources, and join me as we advocate for more inclusive and diverse representation in our media.
It’s time to see what a world without stigma looks like.
It’s time we include disability in the picture.