PODCAST: we cannot be what we cannot see

Growing up as a kid, I looked up to champion tennis player Pat Rafter. Watching him play, I vividly remember thinking “I can never be Pat Rafter because I can’t run”.

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Source: Starting With Julius

I didn’t know any other people with a disability so seeing myself on TV earlier this year during the Australian Open meant I finally saw someone who looks like me - even though it happened to be me.

"If you're not seeing us, you're not looking hard enough.” – Findlay

One in five Australians has a disability but if they don’t see themselves represented in society and advertising they cannot imagine themselves in those particular roles.

I recently sat down with a range of prospective voices to chat about inclusion, diversity and the future for people with a disability. You can listen to the discussion in full below. 

For a transcript of this podcast, click here

It’s a fascinating chat. “Most people [with a disability] are limited by what I describe as the soft bigotry of low expectations,” Former Australian Disability Discrimination Commissioner and chairperson for the Attitude Foundation Graeme Innes says.

According to Graeme, people with a disability want to be agents of their own destiny and “you cannot be what you cannot see”. Companies can make a big difference, Innes says, by making role models of people with a disability and showing examples of them participating in society and the economy.

“If you set the expectation bar low most people won't rise above that bar,” he says. “What we need to do is raise the expectations bar.”


 “There's so much shame that comes with having a disability,” writer, speaker and activist Carly Findlay says. “To see people embracing disability and also really embracing life as a whole is really important.”

Carly regularly showcases her love for fashion on Instagram but is often disheartened by the varying response from brands.

“When I’ve spoken to designers, store owners and agencies they’ll say ‘oh, we don't know where to start to look for disabled representation’. I think if you're not seeing us then you're not looking hard enough.”

Cátia Malaquias is committed to ensuring casting and advertising practices are more inclusive of people with a disability – including her own son, Julius. Cátia funded the award-winning Starting With Julius advocacy group in 2013.

“[The group] really came out of my own desire to disrupt that bubble,” she says. “There is a long history of exclusion [for people with a disability] - people being kept out of sight, being institutionalised and being denied participation.

“Inclusive advertising is different. It's really about representing disabled people inclusively and incidentally.”

A company, its staff and clients are a snapshot of the community and - no matter what its target market is - 20 per cent of that snapshot has a disability.

You can make a profit from inclusive advertising but as a byproduct of that you're also doing the right thing and make people with a disability more independent.

I get frustrated when I hear people say ‘diversity - race, religion, gender, sexual orientation - full stop’.

Disability is the biggest diversity group in Australia and it’s time to make disability sexy, fun, hot, humorous and emotional so let’s get rid of the Zimmer frame, dusty, 1970s’ approach and give it a crack.

Dylan Alcott is an Australian Open and Paralympic tennis champion.  

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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