Josh Loebner: Advertisers should think of accessibility as a gateway to creativity

Women with umbrella leaps in front of bright yellow wall


>>> See full library

“It’s time to embrace inclusion as a sublime differentiator that elevates your work”.

— Josh Loebner, Global Head of Inclusive Design, Wunderman Thompson, March 2023

Accessibility is a long word, and in an industry that loves truncating titles – KFC, BMW, UPS, REI – we need to embrace a11y.

This numeronym (where numbers form an abbreviation) conveys that in between the A and Y of “accessibility,” there are 11 more letters. For many nondisabled people, accessibility can seem like a foreign concept that requires monumental changes; using a11y makes inclusion more approachable, personal and achievable.

This subtle moniker change may help to shift thinking and actions from accessibility as “something another department deals with” to a reframing of how everyone has the power to be an ally across departments and throughout the creative process.

Accessibility is at an all-time high in terms of visibility. But implementation comes down to how agencies and clients interpret it, moving from a marginalized agenda item to a call to action with multifaceted returns.

There are growing opportunities to reach more groups through more accessible pathways, especially since the disability community has grown beyond the physical to include neurodiversity, such as autism, and other cognitive disabilities like dyslexia.

Accessibility as creativity

To truly incorporate accessibility into creativity, the ideative process needs to be realigned, starting with the brief all the way to the production of campaign assets.

For some creative teams, accessible elements such as captions, alt tags or audio descriptions may still be viewed as unimportant and disconnected from the rest of a campaign. With 1 in 4 people in the U.S. and more than a billion people globally disabled, accessibility should be anything but an afterthought.

Done poorly, accessibility as creativity can create ambiguity and cause this massive potential customer base to abandon your brand. Executed optimally, it galvanizes consumers, corporations and media on a global scale. Apple’s “The Greatest,” Amazon’s Accessibility Anthem and Mastercard’s Touch Card commercials are just a few examples that aligned, refined and defined the concept of accessibility as creativity.

Although the advertising industry is still in the initial stages of including immersive audio descriptions and captions, accessibility as creativity is moving beyond the confines of campaigns to innovative product design. Disability entrepreneurs and startups, alongside multinational conglomerates, are tapping into accessibility as a differentiator.

Once confined to products found only in pharmacies and medical specialty stores, accessibility as creativity has pushed these items into the mainstream, with disabled consumers and caregivers now able to find a11y products across a range of retailers and categories from clothing to groceries, grooming to makeup.

Apps, connected packaging (which incorporates a digital component like a QR code), artificial intelligence, 3D printing, remote and hybrid work, and online shopping are converging to elevate creativity into networked, ongoing and deeper consumer connections. Some of many brand innovations with an eye to inclusivity include Ikea’s 3D-printed a11y ThisAbles add-ons, Lancome’s Hapta motorized makeup applicator and Microsoft’s adaptive computer accessories.

Accessibility as humanity

Accessibility has, for far too long, been relegated to technical compliance. It is often confined to jargon-filled project phases centering on remediation and risk mitigation.

Those areas are justified, but let us move more conversations and commitments from technical requirements to human-centric innovation. Too often, digital teams consider accessibility at the end of a project, with responsibility falling to the quality assurance team or an outside vendor. This results in websites with minimal and obligatory accessibility features.

Reframing accessibility as humanity will open a new world where experience teams, service designers, social media strategists, creative directors, copywriters and others can imbue inclusive design at each point within a creative process through the final project. Brands will benefit from expanded omnichannel content and more options for creative assets along the customer journey.

For accessibility to effectively span these diverse agency and brand teams, a11y can be achieved through dedicated design training, accessibility leadership and broader involvement from department staff acting as ambassadors of disability knowledge and empathy. Consider opening the co-creation process to include experts among disability communities and occupational therapists who can guide your development team to success.

Accessibility is the foundation and throughline, achieved when each of us commits to being a marketing a11y. After all, creativity and humanity at their best are accessible, welcoming, memorable and inspire action.