Disabled take a starring role on the big screen

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A hard-hitting advertising campaign to challenge the way the public and media perceive the disabled was launched yesterday.

The National Disability Council and the Co-operative Bank have organised two advertisements which made their debut in cinemas yesterday and will follow up the campaign by targeting chief executives, film production companies and advertising agencies asking them to consider how disabled people are portrayed.

The campaign comes in the same week as Allied Domecq revealed it was using a blind man, Giles McKinley, to front its new campaign for Sauza tequila. The advertisement, which was produced in collaboration with the Royal National Institute for the Blind, shows Mr McKinley diving into a deep blue swimming-pool, making a sculpture, laughing with his gorgeous girlfriend in the park, and sipping tequila in a trendy bar.

The NDC and Co-operative Bank ads, produced by the agency BDDH for pounds 50,000, feature a young man disabled because of thalidomide and a woman with facial disfigurement. The strapline is: "See the person not the disability".

The man, Matthew, explains that at school he was called names such as "spacker" and "spaz" because of his disability. He cheerfully recounts how when he was eyeing up a girl in a bar her boyfriend appeared and swore at him for doing so but did not make fun of his condition. "It made my day," he says.

In the second stage of the campaign, a video showing the various ways in which disabled people are portrayed in the media will be sent to chief executives of the top FTSE 100 companies, advertising agencies, and film production companies. Seminars will then be held to examine how there can be more positive portrayals.

David Grayson, chairman of the National Disability Council, said yesterday that that there were 6.5 million disabled people in Britain trying to get on with leading normal lives who did not want to be thought of as victims or sufferers. "Society has to feel it is wrong to discriminate - and those feelings are shaped in large by media images." he said. "This campaign is an important part of our work to end discrimination against disabled people."

Jim Sinclair, group marketing manager, said: "We're trying to get beyond the superficial impressions. Disability is not a problem for the individuals, it's society's problem."

But Roger McKerr, account planner for HHCL which produced the Sauza advertisements, said he felt that there was still tremendous prejudice: "There has been a taboo about using minority groups per se in advertising," he said. "In the Sixties people in advertisements were always upper middle class and it took a couple of decades for advertising to change and represent people from different social strata. I think there is still a taboo over disabled people because the public are not used to seeing people who are disabled in the mainstream media."