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Have you seen the banner ad below, featuring a wiry, muscular and thoroughly cool-looking guy in a wheelchair? This ad [my copy comes from www.lovebyrd.com, a dating site for people with disabilities] promotes Disaboom, a site of news, networking and such for people with disabilities and their hangers-on. 




I've been wanting to address this ad for a while because I feel ambivalent about it.  I really like the concept of Disaboom, right down to the name, which contains enough association with the familiar term "disability" so that viewers know what it's about, but adds the "boom" so that the result sounds like a magical exclamation or an energetic comic-book sound effect. A quick glance at the sight, which divides into Health, Living, Community and Jobs, shows that Disaboom confronts the major concerns of people with disabilities [i.e., notice that Health is one of the primary ones!], but does not emphasize the limitations of disabilities. Instead, with categories like Community and Jobs, Disaboom highlights that the concerns of people with disabilities are universally human ones for a productive existence and companionship. So I'm all for Disaboom as a site.

However, I feel that this ad has both positive and negative points. On the plus side, the man in the ad contradicts the prevailing stereotype that people with disabilities, especially people who have paralyzed lower extremities, completely lack sexual interest, experience and desire. The man is presented as a sexually active person who doesn't have any time or patience for stupid misconceptions about people with disabilities. Since the ad is aimed presumably at people with disabilities, the audience will probably not put themselves in the place of "people who have stupid misconceptions about the sexuality of disabled people," but will instead identify with the man, saying to themselves, "Yeah, I have romantic and/or sexual interests and, like this guy, am sick of being seen as asexual!" This appeal to the audience members' frustration and intelligence will likely motivate them to click through and see what's going on. I also appreciate that the man is portrayed as confident, active and independent.

On the negative side, the subject of the ad is, as far as I can tell, a hard-bodied Caucasian guy. In other words, he fits many of the current bourgeois American standards for attractiveness [white, muscular, male]. Needless to say, people with disabilities come in all colors and genders, so I think that the ad would be more effective if it were a series, each with a different character with a different race, sex and disability. [That would be kind of hot, actually. Off the subject a bit, I'm picturing a poster showing a grid of photos with all types of people, all types of romantic encounters, all types of disabilities, and the legend LOVE KNOWS NO BOUNDARIES.] The fact that there's only a muscular white guy representing "sexual activity" glosses over the fact that people of other races, genders and disabilities have interests in sex and romance too.

Also on the negative side, not only is this guy the picture of modern white bourgeois hegemonic masculinity, but I can't shake the feeling that he's also passing as non-disabled. Tattoos aside, he looks like a non-disabled guy sitting down in a chair that just happens to have wheels. While some people indeed use wheelchairs with no back and no handlebars and a low-slung profile, other people with disabilities have much more obvious tools that they use; an electric wheelchair, for example, can have six wheels, headlights and tail lights, a control box with joystick and horn, storage pouches on either side, footrests, leg braces, head rest, reclining seat, adjustable cushions and posture support, a backpack on the back and an obvious computer on board, all of which are much more obvious than a discreet little set of wheels under your butt. Here's a randomly selected six-wheeler, the Invacare Pronto M94, just for your information, the likes of which I see much more regularly than the chair shown in the Disaboom ad. I feel that the Disaboom ad downplays the unavoidable obviousness of some mobility aids in its attempt to make the guy in the picture seem more stereotypically "non-disabled."

All in all, though, I think this ad is a great start, provocative and well done. I'd just like to see it as the first in a series, though, featuring a wide array of colors, shapes, sizes and disabilities.

Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
damsel_ophelia
Jun. 10th, 2008 06:48 pm (UTC)
There's another one out there of a young woman with a prosthetic leg and a baby on her hip - I forget the tagline, but something about does her disability interfere with her ability to be a good mother. But again, Caucasian, fairly young, average size. Show me a fat black dyke in a wheelchair! But see, that messes with people's heads too much...it's OK to show a hot white guy in a wheelchair because, yanno, he's hot and could play the token crip on a sitcom.

Grrr....
mytheria
Jun. 10th, 2008 11:28 pm (UTC)
Random thing to ponder: The sampling of people on the front of the disaboom page as 'meet our members' was really very white.
There were 17 there: 9 appeared to be caucasian and of mainstream to athletic builds, 6 didn't have a person in the picture, 1 was an organization, and 1 appeared to be of a minority (and even then pacific islander which can be seen as a 'safe' minority. Also he made a point to state that he'd been in Colorado for X years, which might make them seem less 'other' to people.)
Is their choice of actively advertising with a caucasian of 'idealized' disability a conscious choice for self-selection...
lisadroesdov
Jun. 11th, 2008 08:52 pm (UTC)
Not so sure I agree...
I have an account on Disaboom and I've seen a fair bit of diversity in the ads and in the membership. This is where one of the other ads takes you:

http://ask.disaboom.com/AskAngela/

She's still gorgeous, obviously, but an Asian/Pacific Islander woman talking frankly about sex and disability is great, and she can't exactly help being pretty. Obviously any advertiser is going to to want to feature compelling material in a campaign like this, and her story is not one that you'd be likely to find a fat black dyke to tell. From "Fast and the Furious" (okay, I hated the movie, but still) to a model with a disability.

Then there's these guys: http://www.disaboom.com/Living/music/the-movement-for-improvement.aspx

They're in one of the ads, too, but I couldn't find a link. I'm not crazy about some of the language in the article, however. That's one place I do think Disaboom could improve, but then again, it's an older article on the site and I haven't seen squicky language there recently. "I almost forget he's disabled" is just one of my pet peeves-- um, that's not a compliment, jerks.

One place I DO like the language is this article that is pretty frank and informative about being GBLTQ and disabled: http://www.disaboom.com/Living/livingforward/double-minority-being-gay-lesbian-with-a-disability.aspx

I like the interracial gay couple in the image there, too.

I don't visit Disaboom as often as I used to, just got busy, but I remember when I used to go to the Discussions more often there was a thread started by a bisexual, API man about being GBLTQ with disabilities, and a lot of members identified themselves as GBLTQ there.

There was also an ad that I remember featuring a powerchair user-- her name is Tiffiny and she blogs on the site. That ad was also talking about relationships.

I guess what I'm saying is that in my experience this: "All in all, though, I think this ad is a great start, provocative and well done. I'd just like to see it as the first in a series, though, featuring a wide array of colors, shapes, sizes and disabilities."

Is actually the case already.
blogofstench
Jun. 11th, 2008 11:10 pm (UTC)
Re: Not so sure I agree...
Thanks for telling me that there is more than one ad. I didn't know that until people started posting otherwise. I wish I could find other examples myself. It's nice to know that the campaign is more diverse than I assumed.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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