Patricia Almeida – GADIM – Global Alliance for Disability in Media

PRESENTATION ON 13/6/2017 – UN New York

Thank you all for coming, specially our distinguished guests, and the Missions to Brazil in Italy to be sponsoring this event.

Today we will discussed an article of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities that has been almost ignored. But this article can be the tool to help unlock one barrier that locks up rights in virtually all of the other articles of CRPD. Article 8 is about Raising Awareness. We always complain about how attitudes must change so we have access to respect, dignity, services, participation. Article 8, if well used, can help us do just that. Change ableist culture and promote equality, by using mass media. ableism, for those of you who are not familiar, is to regard people with disabilities as less. second class citizens, burdens.

What does article 8 say:

Article 8 – Awareness-raising


combat stereotypes, prejudices and harmful practices

promote positive perceptions and greater social awareness (Press and media)

Encouraging all organs of the media to portray persons with disabilities in a manner consistent with the purpose of the Convention – (Press, #AdInclusion, #EntertainmentInclusion)

So, let’s look at those attitudes. We have very few research, mostly in the UK where this movement is pretty advanced, as we will see. This survey was done in 2014 by Scope, an organization that promotes rights of persons with disabilities and has been doing incredible media work. They interviewed people and here is what they found.

Current attitudes towards people with disabilities (2014 Scope)


  • 67% feel uncomfortable talking to disabled people.
  • 36% think of disabled people as not as productive.
  • 85% believe that disabled people face prejudice.
  • 21% admit they avoided talking to a disabled.
  • 24% of disabled people say other people expected

less of them.

What to do?

  • more positive portrayals on TV and media.
  • more disabled people as role models and in leadership positions.
  • better education.
  • more opportunities for disabled and non-disabled people to have positive interactions

We all know it takes inclusion in all spheres to achieve those opportunities, but while this does not happen, media inclusion can be a fast-track to inclusion.

How – By including characters and persons with disabilities in media, in a natural, realistic way, in inclusive situations we make people know people with disabilities better and look at them included, by doing that they form a more positive image of persons with disabilities, attitudes change and barriers are broken.

So, what are the numbers of persons with disabilities in the media?

Again, there are only a couple of researches about that (that I know of – if you know others, please tell us).

Glaad is a LGBT organization that publishes a “Where we are on TV report” in the US. They began with the LGBTQ population then started to also count other underrepresented groups, including people with disabilities. And guess what, in 2015 they found 0.9% of characters on TV had a disability. In 2016 this number really improved to… 1.3%…., bear in mind in the US 20% of the population has a disability…

The Ruderman Foundation also did a research in 2015 that showed 95% of characters with disabilities are played by non-disabled actors. That means that only 5% actors with disabilities act on film (the others are making sure they get Oscars and other awards by faking disability…)

There is not only an invisibility question, but also a representation problem. and job opportunity

Let’s take a look back in history of people with disability on TV

Sesame Street was a pioneer – since 1972

  • 1972 – Linda – deaf
  • 1975 – Jason – Down syndrome (EMILY PERL KINGSLEY)
  • 1982 – Aristoteles – blind
  • 1991 – Fran Sinclair – wheelchair user
  • 2016 – Julia – autism

CBeebies – BBC TV Channel

  • Cerrie Burnell – Presenter – amputated – at first parents said children would be scared – stayed almost 10 years in the channel
  • Something Special – Mr Tumbles – sign language – kids with disabilities – not just other kids to see but to kids with disabilities see other kids like them, too – dolls – toys like us
  • Melody – Phones – imagination/animation
  • Magic Hand – Poetry in sign language

With Netflix and Amazon, we see more and more demand to cater for all population different stories.

In recent years there were some high profile on the screen in series characters, like.

  • Breaking Bad – RJ Mitte
  • Game of Thrones – Peter Dinklage (Richard III in theater)
  • Daredevil – Charlie Cox (nondisabled and fought for audiodescription on Netflix – became a sympathizer)
  • Glee – Lauren Potter (was in #NotSpecial video)

In Glee, there was another character in a wheelchair, that wasn’t disabled. This sometimes is understandable. For instance, if in one scene, the character dreams he is walking. It is much simpler to do it with an actor without disabilities.

We know that nowadays there is technology to make that happen, but this costs money. There was a lot of criticism in Mad Max because they used a nondisabled actress and amputated her arm with special effects. We think criticism is good, to create polemic – especially in the social media days – because maybe next time they will do it right. But some of us should leave the door open to be able to influence and change things.

Many more productions, cable TV, Netflix, Amazon. Niche – interesting Stories.

Breaking Bad (1992), Switched at Birth, Born this way, Speechless. Educational in a fun entertaining way. Proof? 5 seasons, awards.

Brazilian Soaps

Wheel of Fire

In Brazil, soap operas have always been very big, and still are. Even if people don’t watch it, everybody comments about it at work, at the dinner table, on the streets. Disability began to be portrayed in a positive way in 1986, thanks to Rosangela Berman-Bieler from Unicef. She heard that the soap would show a paraplegic character (played by a non-disabled actor), used friends to “invade” the studio and convinced people to accept her help changing an old style hospital-like wheelchair for a cool, light one. The character even had sexual active love life.

Pages of Life

In 2006, a breakthrough – The first actress with disability in a Brazilian soap opera was Joana Mocarzel, who played the character Clara, a girl with Down syndrome. MetaSocial Institute worked closely with the production coaching the girl. School inclusion was discussed in a moment there was a lot of resistance  against inclusion. This soap was considered a watershed. Before, people thought students with disabilities belonged in special schools, after, many more people agreed they should go to regular school, like Clarinha, including parents and teachers. Today we are proud to say we over 90% of students with disabilities in regular schools in Brazil and the Brazilian supreme court ruled that private schools should include, too, without charging any extra taxes from students with disabilities. The soap was sold for 90 countries, taking the same message to other communities.

But we learned by experience that, if you fight with someone, they probably won’t want to work with you again. We believe in constructive criticism, influencing, building together. In Pages of Life, the soap opera with the girl with Down Syndrome, my colleague Helena Werneck, from Meta Social Institute was coaching the actress in the set. There was a scene where she was fed with a spoon by the mother. Helena intervened (nicely) and the girl ate her lunch by herself with a fork. In the original scene, the public who watching would form an image of helpless child. Now they they learn kids with Down syndrome are able to feed themselves.

Live your Life, paraplegic character

TV Globo is a pioneer in Social marketing – TV Globo (aids, organ donation, …)

We worked with them in various occasions. TV Globo shows our films for free – Last year we developed a guide for journalists. The result was the greatest coverage ever of World Down Syndrome Day, in every state, with interviews with people with Down syndrome. On autism day, the leading Sunday program, Fantastico showed interviews with young people with autism – not parents, not professionals – where they talked about themselves and explained how their bodies and minds work. It was the first one I see on open national tv. Other cable channels are also progressing in representation, including people with disabilities incidentally, casually, in other programs, without mentioning disability or “celebrating diversity” finger pointing. Cooking, parties.

In British TV you can see it much better, with all underrepresented groups in the content.

Ads – advertising is the last frontier. It takes a lot of advocacy, but we start to see improvement.

Thank you Beth Haller for those! Beth is my partner and co-founder at Gadim, one of my professors in the masters program of Disability Studies and the wikipedia of media and disability.

In the US the first ads

Bell Atlantic 1989 US


Pepsi 2008 US

One of my favorites is this Swiffer film, from 2014, where a interracial family, with stay at home dad who is amputated and does doing housework better with Swiffer – there is purpose and it is shown casually (no finger pointing)

Ads Brazil

In Brazil, MetaSocial’s first institutional film, was made by Nizan Guanaes from DM9 was pianist in 1989.

The first inclusive one came 10 years later, in 2008, after I paid the Minister of communications a visit and asked him to do include models and actors with disabilities in public ads and campaigns. He asked his marketing advisor why they haven’t done this yet. But it was months after my visit that we saw the first inclusive tv commercial, a Christmas campaign for Bank of Brazil. A familiy is happily celebrating Christmas, and one of the kids has Down syndrome. I never knew if it was because of my meeting with the minister or not, but the fact that Bank of Brazil kept on doing inclusive ads. And at the last Mother’s day in Brazil we were able to see what we have been fighting so long to do, without even knowing about it. The same ads creator that did our video in 1989, produced a campaign for Johnson’s & Johnson’s where de “Johnson’s baby” was represented by a baby with Down Syndrome:

With some push and time, things can change.

Companies and agencies didn’t see people with disabilities as consumers

In 2012, Target published an ad for summer clothes featuring five children, one of them a boy with Down syndrome. A blogger, from Noah’s Dad wrote a  note thanking Target and pointing 5 reasons why that went viral.

Target went on including models with disabilities but others were more reticent. In 2016, Asher’s mum sent her charming babies pictures to take part in a casting for OshKosh. The answer – we wanted a baby, not a baby with Down syndrome. Asher’s mum posted her anger against the agency on Facebook and it went viral. What happens next? Oshkosh called apologizing and invited Asher to star their campaign.

In Australia, my partner and co-founder of GADIM, Catia Malaquias created Starting with Julius, her son, who became model of a small clothing brand. Then she started writing to companies asking them to include persons with disabilities in marketing campaigns. KMart and Target, accepted the challenge and started also using other models with disabilities and other forms of diversity, like boys playing with dolls and girls playing with helicopters.

And the trend is spreading! Gap is doing it, El Corte Inglés, largest department store in Spain is doing it.

Diversity is now “in fashion”, with out of the ordinary models on catwalk.

The first model with disability on New York Fashion week was wheelchair user. A fashion brand wanted to show real life costumers, and among them was one wheel chair user.


But when it comes to stock image – those photo bank you can buy or use pics for free – it’s a different story. There are still very few and old fashioned photos. If you enter a search – child disability and school – you will get special schools, not inclusive ones. If you enter business woman or man, you will never get a person with disability in a suit.

This little girl is everywhere. On World Down syndrome Day she was in 9 out of 10 event flyer, websites and news stories. I started asking around to see if anyone knew her. Nothing. Then I dig deeper and found her father is a photographer. They are Ukrainians and live in Paris.  Her name is Maria and she is now 13. Although she became the face of inclusion around the world, Maria goes to a special school.

There are some specialized image banks on disabilities, with good pics – Photoability (Scott Rains – Australia) and Disability Images (US) and diversity – Blend Images (Canada).

But what we have to fight for is inclusion in the big stock images that already exist, like Reuters.

Speaking about photos and Reuters, you all know that we had a zika virus outbreak in Brazil and many babies were born with a new condition called now Congenital Syndrome caused by Zika Virus Infection. It happen in very poor areas in Brazil, with scarce sanitation conditions, where the mosquitoes that transmitted the virus lived.

The first pictures photojournalists took of the babies were not only sensationalist. They were scary. They provoked fear. Of course it was a serious matter, but all I could thought was – what is going to happen to this children? What kind of stigma we are building for them. They quickly were transformed in the “zika babies”. One mother getting on a bus to take her baby to the doctor, was expelled from the bus by a man saying her son was the demon.  That’s the kind of stigma the media can create very quickly. And this sad pictures were made by award winning photojournalists in news agencies like Reuters and AP. the way they were picturing these children – always crying, in angles that explored the shape of their heads. In my paper I compared these pictures with family album pics of the same babies, I found on Facebook. The difference is enormous.


Communications Act 2003 (“the Act”) to promote the importance of equal opportunities to all radio and television broadcasters

Men and women, people of any race, and disabled people must have equal opportunities in their employment with broadcasters

Disability Equality Scheme

  • Equal Opportunities Toolkit for Broadcasters.
  • ideas to make sure equal opportunities and disability equality in employing and training their staff
  • make sure broadcasters are able to comply with their licence requirements on equal opportunities


  • More than 10% workforce with disability
  • Inclusive programs
  • Channel 4
  • Full coverage Paralympics London 2012 and Rio 2016
  • Inclusion in productions




Starting with Julius – Australia

MetaSocial Institute – Brazil

Changing the Face of Beauty – US

Josh Loebner – Advertising & Disability – US

  • Film Fesivals – Assim Vivemos (the way we live, Brazil) Sprout (US), Reel Abilities (US),Russia, France, Mexico
  • Film Production – Bus Stop Films (Australia)
  • Activists – Tari Hartman – EIN SOF Communications
  • Gail Ford Williamson – KMR Talent Agency

Media Awards

Media Access Awards (Deborah Calla)

Katherine Schneider Journalism Award for Excellence in Reporting on Disability


  • Tari Hartman – EIN SOF Communications (US)

CBS News , Lights! Camera! Access! (Internship)

BBC  plan to improve representation of disabled people on and off screen (2014)

  • Quadrupling the on-screen representation of disabled people by 2017
  • A pan-BBC Disability Executive to champion disabled talent and projects
  • Developing the BBC’s existing schemes to recruit and retain disabled staff
  • Opening up even more opportunities for disabled people to work for the BBC
  • Gail Ford Williamson – KMR Cast Talent Agency (US)