Model for change

When I was a kid, I would watch the same Saturday morning cartoons as all my mates. And all the same ads for everything from breakfast cereals to the latest muscle-bound plastic toys.

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(L to R) Sara Shams, Dylan Alcott, Hamish Mackenzie and Diesel

It was an afterthought to my mates that all the people on the ads were pretty much like them. Who pays that much attention to an ad when you are a kid anyway?

"Despite the fact almost 20 per cent of Australians, or 4.4 million people, live with a disability, they are seriously under-represented on our screens.”

I did. And I noticed the only time I’d see someone like me on TV was as a result of a tragic car accident.

As a little kid I was confused more than angry, I knew how rich my life was.  Why didn’t the people making the TV commercial know that? My Mum and Dad knew – don’t all adults know this stuff?

A couple of decades later and things haven’t really changed. And that breaks my heart.

Despite the fact almost 20 per cent of Australians, or 4.4 million people, live with a disability, they are seriously under-represented on our screens.

It seems unbelievable that a mere one per cent of people living with disability are currently seen in advertising campaigns globally.

Looking back at that kid whose primary focus was playing with his mates and getting his hands on the latest cool toy, I realise how seeing people like me on TV would have changed my life.

You can never underestimate the subtle power of role models, they are projections of ourselves who we can seek solace in.  But they also help us to dream.

That's why the Dylan Alcott Foundation (DAF) is launching the “Shift 20 Initiative” which aims to revolutionise disability representation in Australian advertising.

As a part of the campaign our foundation partners; ANZ, AAMI, Bonds, Kia, McDonalds, nib, Weet-bix, Uber, Oral-B and Pantene will transform their advertising to increase representation, inclusion and accessibility for people with a disability.

This initiative is powerful because it is about everyday heroes being shown on screen. The talent are not famous people with disability, instead they’re ordinary people doing ordinary things; eating breakfast, opening bank accounts, going to work and wearing undies.

The aim of the “Shift 20 Initiative” is to shift representation of people with disability in advertising, with a goal of getting to a more accurate representation of the population by 2028.

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While we want to challenge brands to improve disability representation, we also want them to understand that by including people with disability they also help their own brand and commercial outcomes.

Foundation partners of the initiative have all changed scenes within their current TV commercials. Existing scenes have been replaced with people who have a disability.

We found plenty of great actors with disabilities who were amazing in these commercials.

This change is not only happening on the screen. The re-shot scenes also provided opportunities for people with disability to take part in the ads behind the camera, in production and post-production.

These opportunities will hopefully kickstart some careers and move beyond advertising to mainstream media, TV and production.

A dedicated website has been built to allow brands access to best practice resources to create more accessible and inclusive communications. It won’t fix everything overnight. But we know there will be kids out there today who will see these ads and know that there is a prominent place in society for all of us.

And if these campaigns help those young Australians to dream big – then we will have done our job.

To learn more about the Shift 20 Initiative visit the website.

Dylan Alcott AO is an Athlete, Paralympian, Philanthropist and the 2022 Australian Of The Year.

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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