Dylan Alcott tells advertisers to commit to representation or get left behind

In the first session of the AANA’s Reset conference on Friday, gold medal-winning Australian paralympian, Tennis champion and 2022 Australian of the Year Dylan Alcott told the advertising industry that representation of people with a disability is not only impactful for young people with a disability, but it just good business.

“You’re gonna make a shedload more money if you have representation and you advertise to that segment of the population,” said Alcott.

The paralympian also spoke to the transformative impact of representation and inclusion for people with a disability, explaining the lack of representation of people like him during had affected him deeply as he was growing up.

Until recently, the dominant narrative surrounding disability in the media was often what Alcott describes as a ‘sob story’. For Alcott, the representation of people with a disability in advertising really only extended to road safety advertisements, where disability was positioned as a tragic outcome of an accident.

Luckily, the conversation around representation has grown, thanks to the work of advocates like Alcott and growing public support of paralympic sports and other disability sports. Alcott himself has been the face of many brand campaigns and ambassadorships, having worked with 7-Eleven, Powerade, Kia and many others.

However, he acknowledged there is a fear in the industry of getting things wrong and a lack of awareness of the capabilities of people with disabilities.

“”You’ve got to lift your expectations of what people with a disability can do,” said Alcott. Adding “the best way to figure out if a person with a disability can can’t or can’t do something” is to ask them. Alcott also noted the importance of asking the right person – people with a disability are not a homogenous group. Alcott encourages advertisers to ask the person who has lived experience with the disability they want to ask about. For example, if they want to know more about involving a person with autism in a campaign, ask a person with autism.

The sentiment is one shared by Indigenous X founder and CEO and proud Gamilaroi man, Luke Pearson, who also presented at the event. Pearson explains the limited, and often homogenous, representation of Indigenous Australians in the media industry means the weight of each instance of representation is much heavier.

“It is so crucial. You can’t be what you can’t see,” said Pearson, adding it is so important for the representation of Indigenous Australians to grow and to be “led by the Indigenous people that are asking for that representation.”

Reminding the industry the symbiotic nature of representation and diversity, Alcott said “the number one reason you should do it is it’s good business.”

“The second, is that you get the warm and fuzzies because you’re doing a good thing,” he adds.

“A credit to everyone in the room because I am seeing more disability representation everywhere – we can’t do it by ourselves,” concludes Alcott, adding for those who are yet to engage in meaningful representation to “hurry up, because you’re gonna get left behind”.


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