Where are the wheelchairs? – by Houbara’s Nishkka Manglani

Inclusive marketing is no longer an optional extra, it’s a key ingredient that raises the marketing dough says Nishkka Manglani, senior account manager, Houbara Communications

Nishkka Manglani HOubara Communications

I’ve been a mum to a bright and chirpy boy in a wheelchair for 11 years. However, this summer, as the world became a safe space to go out and explore, my son, a whole lot older and wiser, asked me why children or adults in wheelchairs are not represented in advertising. This made me think and want to reach out to my industry of marcomms professionals to see if it inspires us to think differently and to include them in our campaigns.

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Over the past two years, we’ve seen how our communities have become more important than ever. And at the heart of every marketing or customer experience strategy is a need for relationships and connection.

Every aspect of inclusion is an opportunity to establish and enrich these connections as customers get more comfortable in their own skin and champion people and brands who celebrate the differences. Inclusion, google says, is seen as a universal human right. The aim of inclusion is to embrace all people irrespective of race, gender, disability, medical or other needs. However, inclusion is often ticked off by balancing gender, and more recently representing various nationalities, in the region. But inclusion for different abilities is mostly ignored or politely slipped under CSR.

That’s a very skewed way of looking at this community. Statistics recently cited in The National newspaper estimated the people of determination population to be over 11 million in the region. Add to this number – their family, extended family, friends and healthcare professionals. Do you see the reach? Do you see the niche?

I understand that not all of us have the opportunity to see these nuances, these gaps, to think in this manner. I do, as a parent to a child of determination, as the UAE so lovingly refers to them. And as a communications professional, I hope the industry will step up to the plate.  

For instance, I would have loved to see a person of determination trying their best to make it through a day as independently as possible in the regional Adidas I’m possible campaign. How amazing would it be to see a story of a sportsman who is also a person of determination in a Nike ad for the region? It’s not that our society doesn’t have these phenomenal individuals, it does, it’s about our brand managers, marketing and PR teams thinking expansively and inclusively about the different abilities to find and nurture them.

In addition to commercial benefits, this is a real reflection of society. It is when children begin to see children of determination being represented in back-to-school campaigns, in the marketing of summer camps, and in editorials, so that they are more aware of their existence. It helps to normalize them so that it is way easier to connect with differently-abled kids in the classroom, at school, at the park and in play areas.

Which brings me to the question: Why not step up the playing field for the people of determination too?

Perhaps there is a concern about how to do this right and the potential fear of not understanding this niche well enough or worse getting it wrong. But just as with trying to understand any other niche audience, it is about connecting with the people of determination and their families, with experts in the field, over a coffee morning to understand what you can do as a company, or a brand to effectively engage with and represent them. Once you understand this, take the time to work on your offering and check back with them for any sensitivity.  

It would be equally amazing to see members from the people of determination community or those that champion true inclusion to be speaking at the marcomms events in the country, for organizers to offer their platforms to such a speaker at their next conference so that it’s firmly on marketeers’ agendas.

I would love to mention here the work that Touch is doing in this space. Touch is an inclusive talent management and disability inclusion consultancy agency in the UAE. Every Sunday, they host the children of determination community at Crossfit Alioth for an hour of tailored physical activity sessions with coaches who volunteer their time and efforts to uplift the community. Touch recently tied up with Dubai Tourism, Dubai Food Festival, Dubai College of Tourism and Hilton Dubai to advocate for inclusivity within the F&B and hospitality industry in the city.

Perhaps it’s also the recognition that will draw us in and make us think. Maybe it’s time for a ‘Best Inclusive Campaign’ category at our renowned regional marketing and PR awards to see an increase in inclusive campaigns that will be launched. Now that really would be progress.