October was National Disability Employment Awareness Month and the perfect time to look among staff at agencies and advertisers and consider how disability is represented beyond portrayals in campaigns and, more importantly, within the workforce.
Disability is gaining visibility in the ad industry, with many of the Cannes Lions winners featuring disability inclusion in their work. Caroline Casey, founder of the Valuable 500, a nonprofit driving global businesses to commit greater disability inclusion, recently hosted the panel Disability Inclusion: A Valuable Conversation. This positive momentum will continue as more disabled creatives, programmers, strategists and others compelled to advertising are welcomed into the industry as young professionals and those already employed are promoted to leadership positions where they can continue advocating for inclusion.
Hopefully hiring managers, human resource teams and everyone on the job hunt are aware of ethical, moral and social boundaries and etiquette when it comes to interviewing a marginalized person, whether that person in the hot seat is a woman, person of color, queer or a combination of any of those groups. But what if that person has a disability? A big barrier for many employers to consider hiring someone with a disability is the fear of perceived unknowns, such as unknown costs, unknown physical barriers and unknown distractions, among other considerations. Many of these unknowns may be brought up by hiring managers during the interview process as reasons for not selecting a viable candidate that has a disability.
The situation facing people with disabilities on the job market is so unique that the A&E Network premiered The Employables, which, according to the network, is a “groundbreaking new docuseries [that] follows job seekers with conditions such as autism or Tourette Syndrome as they work to overcome obstacles and find fulfilling employment.”
Hiring managers and disabled job seekers should consider the following disability-specific tips to make interviews less awkward and more accessible.
Ask about a company’s inclusion practices
Reach out to diversity and inclusion employee resource groups in an agency to gain insights. Ask questions on sensitive areas and other points to lean into. Or simply connect with one (or several) disabled staff members at the company that are open and comfortable to share a conversation about day-to-day agency experiences and how disability fits in to better guide the hiring process.
Meet with professional groups that advocate for diversity
Connect with industry professional organizations that help to foster greater inclusion in the workforce, such as the American Advertising Federation’s Mosaic Center for Multiculturalism, where anyone that is hiring or looking to be hired will find diversity and inclusion information.
Attend disabled student mentoring group events
Seek out disabled student mentoring organizations such as Lights! Camera! Access! 2.0 and consider attending one of its media, advertising and entertainment mentoring summits, which include guidance on self-disclosure and how to leverage your disability to sharpen your competitive edge.
Research an agency’s overall approach to disability
Understand how diversity and inclusion is, or isn’t, part of the agency’s culture and where disability fits in. Consider the most recent Cannes Lions winners that included disability in some way and which agencies led those creative campaigns. Dig deeper to find out how disability commitment is promoted within agencies and advertisers beyond inclusive ads.
Show, don’t tell, your strengths
Show how disability, diversity and inclusion bring out strengths of adaptability, ingenuity, creativity and commitment, all traits any hiring manager in the ad industry would agree are worthy of a candidate’s consideration. Be comfortable weaving disability into the narrative in a positive way to define your passions, personality and purpose. Often, there is a strong bond between disability and creativity, and in those instances, boldly include it at the forefront of the conversation.
One example of an individual connecting creative and disability is James Rath, who is a legally blind video producer. He wove his talents and disability together and produced Tommy Hilfiger’s inclusive ad and accessible campaign.
Disability isn’t one-dimensional. Disabled creatives and advertising staff don’t need to be segregated to only focus on disability-specific campaigns or creative elements unless that is an agreed-to role, such as a user experience specialist focused on accessible websites or an inclusive design strategist. Disabled staff will share a depth of insights to guide disability-specific campaigns, but also know that disabled creatives will bring bold ideas to any brainstorming session or boardroom meeting.
Because we took this month to celebrate, educate and value disability employment awareness, take the time to plan and discover how disability can be purposefully and proactively woven into your agency’s career recruitment efforts on an ongoing basis throughout the year. Be a champion for diversity and disability inclusion and a leader in your workforce to open the door, break the glass ceiling and welcome individuals from a group that has been marginalized, misunderstood and often invisible in advertising for so long. Look beyond diversity and inclusion quotas to the powerful qualifications and passions of so many creators in the disability community.