VidMob’s DE&I task force called ACTION recently hosted a talk with entrepreneur and disability activist Keely Cat-Wells. The CEO and Founder of C Talent and Zetta Studios, Keely is a Forbes 30 Under 30 honoree (2021), Advisory Board Member at Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation, and a speaker and consultant for organizations including The United Nations, The Cannes Film Festival, The LEGO Group, Google, and Virgin Media.
C Talent represents Deaf and Disabled artists, athletes, and influencers globally with the goal of normalizing disabled people being experts in subjects beyond disability. Along with every employee at C Talent and 18% of the world’s population, Keely herself has a disability which provides a first-hand perspective on how to expand opportunities for the most underserved minority group on the planet.
“We often talk about diversity being this seat at the table… but what if we don’t have access to the door to get to that table?”. Keely explains, “I think we have to reframe the diversity, equity, and inclusion conversations to include accessibility. Because without access, we can’t have any conversation.”
In the US, 1 in 4 (26%) people have a disclosed disability, only 0.8% of all advertising features a disabled person. Keely and VidMob’s Chief Brand Officer, Stephanie Bohn, engaged in a candid conversation about what our industry can (and should) do to improve accessibility and more accurately, positively, and respectfully portray disabled people in the media. You can watch the talk here and below are highlights that resonated most with me.
Here are five considerations for accessibility and inclusion in advertising:
How can the media and entertainment industry be more inclusive?
“We need to change the way that we’re represented, and that starts with advertising and media” says Keely, “[disabled people] are [often] represented as a pity case, being less than, a caricature or a second class citizen.” Keely and her team are working with leading brands to change the narrative by making ads less tokenistic and judgemental. In success, C Talent will create wealth and celebrity power for talented disabled people. “We want to see the Viola Davis’s and George Clooney’s in the disability community. We aim to set a new standard.”
Movements like #WeThe15, started by the International Olympic Committee, aim to transform the lives of the world’s 1.2 billion disabled people by publicly campaigning for disability visibility, inclusion, and accessibility. “This campaign was told by disabled people, for disabled people, with disabled people,” says Keely. Her company, C Talent, worked as disability consultants to make sure there was access at every point of the process by focusing on four pillars: physical, sensory, communication, and cognitive. By bringing in disability consultants like Keely and her team from the beginning, brands can help prevent problems and create more opportunities to influence the creative process.
How can we improve the accessibility of ads and digital content?
In addition to having closed captions on videos, brands should consider integrated audio. According to AMI, Integrated Described Video (IDV) is a method of producing video content for blind and partially sighted audiences, where key visual elements are incorporated throughout the entire production process. Keely points out that when we think of audio descriptions, we usually think of two separate videos or sounds. IDV will allow creativity to stay intact while making one fully accessible version. One of C Talent’s specialists, Chloe, is working with sounds that tell a blind audience what is being portrayed. “For instance, if there’s a scene at the beach, she will choose sounds that make it incredibly obvious to a visually impaired or blind viewer what is going on,” says Keely.
Here is an incredible “cheat sheet” from C Talent that provides context and concrete ideas on how to change the narrative and improve accessibility.
How can we create more inclusive company environments?
Keely recommends that employers should educate their company about the social model of disability, which is a model created by and for disabled people. “[Disabled people] are only restricted and only don’t have opportunities because of society’s barriers, such as stairs or not having captions,” Keely notes. “Education will help everyone within the company feel confident when talking about disability because you’re using the same language.” For starters, companies can say “disabled people” rather than “people with disabilities,” unless asked otherwise by a disabled person.
Creating inclusive environments physically will lead to more inclusive environments overall. This can start by changing our surroundings - like getting rid of revolving doors which some people can’t go through. Keely’s team at Zetta Studios is developing a universally designed facility that will work for everyone, regardless of disability or age, and will set a new standard for employers. Keely also encourages companies to hire disability consultants to go beyond meeting quotas or performative inclusion by being fully accessible.
How can we make presentations and webinars more inclusive?
For viewers that are sight-impaired, presenters should describe themselves after introductions. For example, VidMob’s Stephanie Bohn started the conversation with “I have brown hair, I have brown eyes, I’m wearing a tan top and I’m sitting in my living room. The background is a little blurred, and it’s a pretty light and sunny day here.”
Closed captions should be enabled for deaf viewers to read along, but interpreters at live and virtual events should also be available because English is often not a deaf person’s first language. American Sign Language (ASL) and British Sign Language (BSL) were invented separately, and the speakers can’t understand each other. Asking attendees if they require special accommodations beforehand will also help when choosing one or both translators.
How can we make job descriptions and applications more accessible?
Keely describes five components to building a job description that can be applied across a variety of situations:
1. Use Word documents over PDFs. The text within Word documents can be read by assistive technologies, like screen readers and Braille devices.
2. Implement ‘Easy Read,’ which refers to the presentation of the text in an accessible and easy-to-understand format. This is beneficial for people with learning impairments or conditions affecting how they process information.
3. Make sure an ASL and BSL video file is available where the job is posted.
4. Commit to website accessibility by choosing a content management system that supports accessibility, using proper alternative text for images, giving your links descriptive names, selecting colors with care, and more.
5. Ask the candidate if they have any access requirements, rather than asking if they have a disability.
While we don’t have all the answers, this event was prompted so that we could learn together. VidMob is committed to creating a permanent impact, and we encourage you to keep learning about accessibility and inclusion via this toolkit.