It’s been a big month for our Ad Inclusion Ambassador, 9 year-old Emily Prior, and it has only just gotten bigger. In Emily’s own words “it was my dream to be in the Target Toy catalogue” and earlier this month that dream turned to reality when she appeared in one of the retailer’s biggest catalogues of the year, Target Australia’s mid-year toy catalogue. This week Emily, who was born with cerebral palsy, has gone one further, by appearing on the cover of Target’s latest kids’ fashion catalogue and in their advertising in-store.
When we first came across Emily, she wanted to know why there weren’t any models with disability in mainstream advertising. As her mum, Jennifer recounts, she had been looking through a catalogue with Emily, when Emily turned to her and asked “Mummy, why are none of the models in here disabled like me?” Emily had been in some photo shoots for a disability organization so she didn’t understand why disabled people didn’t appear in regular advertising as well.
To us, it mattered a lot that a perceptive young girl questioned why people with disability were not being represented and that she wanted to challenge advertisers to do better – and we wanted to help. But why does it matter?
There are many reasons. Advertising is designed to impact our perception of the world around us and it does – the images it presents shape how we see the world and who and what we value. But for the most part, mainstream advertising has excluded so much of our community, and especially, anyone with a disability or “difference”. The push to include people with disability in mainstream advertising and media is happening all over the world and is part of a bigger movement. We have all been asking for more diversity in advertising – for people of different ages, body shapes and ethnicities to be represented – and Australian retailers like Target and Kmart are responding and setting a new advertising standard.
For people with disability, the demand to be seen in advertising is particularly significant – it represents a broader challenge in response to a long history of being “hidden away” – that history of excluding people with disability from almost every area of life is at the root of the serious disadvantage that people with disability continue to face today.
But what if you can’t tell whether someone in advertising has a disability, does it still matter then? Is that still ad inclusion? This is a question that we are often asked – is it ad inclusion when a disabled person who does not appear disabled is in a mainstream advertisement? Let me put it this way. It always matters when people with disability are given the same opportunities for participation as everyone else.
In fact, 80% of disabilities are “invisible” – but including a person with an “invisible” disability may still involve retailers, photographers, hairdressers, make-up consultants etc making necessary accommodations to make this happen. In that case, ad inclusion is not just about the visual inclusion in the end advertising product – it is also about actual inclusion in the advertising creation process which may involve adjustments and accommodations to make that process accessible to all.
It matters when companies embrace diversity in their workforce as part of the culture and values and are proactive about welcoming people with disability and removing barriers to their participation in employment. It matters when children with disability are welcomed into regular schools and helped to thrive. Inclusion always matters, whether or not everything involved in achieving it is in the public eye. It is usually achieved because of a culture willing to make the necessary adjustments to welcome and include everyone.
So this month, we love two things about Emily’s appearance in the Target catalogues. We love Emily’s cover shot, in which she appears looking proud and confident wearing summer shorts and the braces (known as an ankle-foot orthosis or AFO) that support her legs and help her and many others with cerebral palsy to stand and walk. As Emily’s mum said to us “look at those gorgeous AFOs right there!”
And we also love that when Target shot the first catalogue, which called for a child to be seated and shown from the waist up playing with a toy, they chose Emily, and didn’t feel the need to show Emily’s disability. In other words, Emily was cast as Emily, neither in spite of nor because of her disability. This doesn’t mean that Emily’s disability didn’t matter. In Emily’s own words when we asked her if it was hard being in a photo shoot:
“[Target] made sure I didn’t get too tired and always checked if I was okay. I always got to have a rest between the different outfits. It was easy for me and also lots of fun.”
Emily also told us:
“I loved getting to wear lots of different clothes and have my hair styled each time. It was fun having the hair and makeup artist come and do my hair and make up while I was having photos taken. I felt really famous!”
But in the eyes of a 9 year-old, can you guess the best part?
“My favourite part of the toy catalogue was being able to see and play with the toys before they were in the shops.”
We are absolutely thrilled to see not only Emily but the the diverse cast of young models with and without disability who are featured alongside Emily, including 3 year old Jack Radford, who appears in the toy catalogue along with his power wheelchair. If you haven’t seen the full catalogues, you can view them online at www.target.com.au.
Congratulations Target on this important step in ad inclusion and for ensuring the accommodations to make the experience a fun and accessible one for each and every one of their young models.
We also congratulate Kmart for also leading on diversity in this space, starting with their celebrated Easter catalogue and every single children’s catalogue they have released since.
Here’s to ad inclusion and diversity in Australian retail advertising, this month and in the future!
P.S. Look out for Emily next time you are in a Target store!