Sunday, September 23, 2007

Unemployment. It's 100% Curable.

I know you are going find this shocking and perhaps a bit hard to believe. However, the Geico "Caveman" commercials have been officially knocked out of first place as my favorite TV ad series. Yep, it’s true. My new favorite ads are now being run locally here in the Minneapolis TV viewing area by Gillette Children’s Hospital. Let me tell you about it.

This ad starts out with a really cute four-year old girl named Lila doing what a lot of four-year olds do. She is playing grown-up and baking a cake in her toy oven. With only background noise for sound, Lila moves about her play activities with skill and a contagious smile. The ad quickly draws you in and then you notice that something doesn’t look quite right. Before the viewer is able integrate the information into a cohesive thought, Lila pulls her "baked goods" from the toy oven using a custom-fit prosthetic hand and offers her treat to the camera.
In a moment, the ad whacks you on the side of the head with its text message–
Pity. It’s 100% Curable.
No commercial words were spoken. No voice over was necessary. The short vignette captured it visually and effectively in seconds. Lila is presented to the audience as your typical but precocious four-year old kid. The message is this–Lila doesn’t want or need your pity. Instead, she needs your respect, understanding, and acceptance for who she is.
I've seen this ad numerous times now and it makes me smile every time. The ad campaign is skillfully crafted and shows several children with disabilities doing ordinary things we might expect of all children. And I am thinking– "We need more direct messages like this showing kids with disabilities as "kids" not disabled kids. I am sorry Jerry Lewis but the positive contributions you made raising money for research through your telethons has been negated by damaging displays of pity and perpetuation of negative imagery over the years.
I guess I just can’t feel sorry for kids with disabilities like Lila. To the contrary, I feel sorry for people who feel sorrow for kids like Lila because most of them see these children through the lens of disability. And when this happens, they tend to miss a child’s innate gifts and potential to contribute in meaningful and unique ways.
Kudos to Gillette Children’s Hospital for their vision and outstanding work in the area of public education. I will be honest with you. I’m a bit envious. I only wish Minnesota’s adult service system had caught on with the program much sooner. In a previous post entitled Reflections on Minnesota’s Employment First Summit, I shared how there is a growing awareness about Minnesota’s need to rebrand the services of "rehabilitation" in support of youth and adults with disabilities. We need to do a much better job in showing employers what they are missing out on. And this means presenting the unique strengths of people we represent in new ways so businesses recognize and are willing to take affirmative steps to employ this untapped labor potential. I am not talking here about charitable causes but real business economics–the development of real jobs for real pay.
After watching the ad featuring Lila, I was thinking we need a similar media campaign for adults. Can’t you just see it? What if we showcased Minnesotans with significant disabilities working in competitive jobs in the workforce with obvious skills and productivity? And what if we documented in short ads how workers with complex disabilities are performing in unique and sometimes unexpected roles customized around their abilities to contribute? Can’t you just see the video text scrolling across the screen with its simple message?
Unemployment. It’s 100% curable.
And then at the close of our TV spot: For more information, contact Minnesota’s Employment First Alliance at 763-783-2815.
OK, I guess we can’t rip off a copyrighted PR program and steal away Gillette Children’s Hospital’s thunder. But I think you get my point. Why couldn’t we launch a comparable public education campaign that spotlights adults with disabilities as emerging assets in Minnesota’s future workforce and economy? And why can’t we can work to change public perceptions about the work capacities of Minnesotans with significant disabilities with positive messages featuring strengths-based practices?
Well, the answer is– we can! And I say the time is right now. In about 15 years or so, Lila is going to need a good job. So let’s get on with it so she has a progressive workforce and real economic opportunity to look forward to.


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