Super Bowl Ads

Picture of an old-style TV set with four disability symbols on the screen

There were two Super Bowl ads last year featuring disabled people, and it looks like there will be two more this year.

Obviously, TV ads run during the Super Bowl have more potential to influence American popular culture and attitudes than ordinary, everyday. Not every ad is either memorable or ground-breaking, but the opportunity, the audience, is there.

The problem is that it is so easy to make completely well-meaning, disability-themed ads that send the wrong kind of message. The message is almost always positive, but that’s not the same thing as helpful, or inclusive, or empowering. Some ads that “celebrate” disabled people distance them at the same time. And then there are the ads that use disabled people to flat-out make us go "awww" and maybe cry a little ... like we are both the Clydesdale and the dog that Budwiser Super Bowl ad. Appearance doesn’t always equal progress, and warm, mushy feels aren't really what we are looking for.

That’s why I sort of agree with the Advertising & Disability website blogger that it’s better to show a disabled person incidentally in an ad about something else than to construct an ad around a disabled person or some sort of heightened, carefully spelled out “message” about disability.

With TV and movies, there’s time and space to have both deep disability focus and incidental, background disability. But in ads, there’s just not enough time to say anything very effectively about disability, other than, “We exist, and we’re fine.”

Which is actually a pretty good message. It goes to far to call it “ground breaking,” but it’s nice to see and I think it helps.