I am female, queer, and disabled. For much of my life, these parts of my identity were rarely, if ever, authentically represented in media and advertising. I felt different, not valued, and alone. As a result, I spent years hiding who I was in my work and personal life.
It wasn’t until a few years ago that I began to understand that all of my identities do not exist without each other. For the first time, people cared about all of me, not just my disability. Feeling that every intersection of my identity was recognized and valued was a transformative experience.
As a marketer, I want everyone to experience this feeling and believe great advertising should include everyone. I’m not just talking about the work, but how and where it reaches people.
One component of that is ensuring content is accessible to the more than one billion people in the world with a disability, while also recognizing their unique backgrounds and circumstances. That’s why we partnered with disability inclusion experts, like LaVant Consulting and Disability:IN, to develop a playbook on accessible creative, which has played a meaningful role in guiding Google’s marketing efforts over the past year, and is available to everyone at google.com/all-in.
This playbook is the result of years of research and collaboration, and part of an ongoing process to identify and provide guidance on a range of actions to improve accessibility, from building more accessible web experiences to working to authentically portray people with disabilities. We’re sharing these learnings with brands and marketers as a resource to drive a representation shift across media. While this resource provides details on many areas of accessibility, I want to share three key takeaways that I hope brands will consider.
Nothing about us, without us
Disabled people are their own experts, which is why it’s so important to bring in their voices from the start. This also means dedicating resources to doing inclusive marketing right, including providing training and support for internal teams.
At Google, we’ve sought out partnerships with a number of experts, such as Disability:IN and LaVant Consulting, and influential industry organizations like The 4A’s, The Ad Council and Cannes Lions have endorsed it. Partnerships like these show allyship and engage directly with the disabled community, which helps to expand the ideas that fuel your work.
For marketing experiences to feel truly inclusive and accessible, we need to think about people with disabilities more holistically. We must consider a spectrum of identity markers, including gender, BIPOC, LGBTQ+, age and education. Failing to recognize and reflect intersectionality in your messages can reduce disabled people’s multidimensional identities into oversimplified stories that perpetuate stereotypes. Always opt for nuanced narratives, preferably ones that come directly from the people who are part of the narrative.
Last year we applied these insights when creating A CODA Story, a commercial that shares the personal experience of Tony Lee, a Googler and a child of Deaf Adults (CODA). The spot portrays Lee and his family’s personal experiences as they bridge gaps in distance and communication during the pandemic with the help of Google’s assistive technologies.
Accessibility is a mindset, not a box to check
Best practices change as technology develops and culture shifts. Accessibility is an ever-evolving journey that depends heavily on the needs of people with disabilities. Make accessibility a constant commitment embedded into every aspect of your brand — from conception to execution and beyond. This is something we’ve made a lot of progress on at Google, but we recognize that achieving our accessibility goals is a continual process that we are perpetually learning from.
Accessible marketing is good for all people, and the benefits don’t stop there. When everyone can fully access and engage with your products, content and experiences, it’s good for business. Brands benefit from prioritizing this human and business imperative because it opens up their work to a more diverse audience. Committing to accessible marketing breaks down barriers and enables brands to be better in their work, which is better for all people.
Together, we can drive a cultural shift that represents and celebrates people with disabilities as their whole selves. A world where everyone can see themselves is one where everyone has what they need to thrive.
KR Liu is head of brand accessibility at Google.
This article originally appeared on Campaign US.