It felt a bit like that watching the Action for Children advert, featuring “Dan” describing his experiences of living with autism. The advert can be viewed here: http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=_K5lSSTG-90, but was summed up well by the London Autistic Rights Movement:
“The advert in question depicts a young autistic person called 'Dan' talking about his experiences of living with autism and how Action for Children helped him with behavioural problems, and in particular his tendency to lash out at others who were insulting him and "pressing his buttons".”
“The narration is accompanied by a cartoon in which 'Dan' is portrayed as being trapped inside a rampaging monster until he is taken under Action for Children's wing, whereupon the real Dan emerges as a vulnerable young man and the monster vanishes. The impression given by the advert is that his autistic behaviour is his own fault and has to be defeated.”
“This distressing advert is causing worldwide uproar amongst the autism community since it implies that autistic children are "monstrous" and blames the autistic child for lashing out at what appears to be bullying, rather than blaming the behaviour of the bullies themselves.”
The impression the advert gives is that once “Dan” had been segregated into a special school, he stopped unfairly lashing out at people, and everyone got on with their lives.
No doubt Action for Children does some very laudable work, but what on earth happened here? Was the bloke who went on the Disability Awareness Course out of the office that day, or did the Marketing Department just see the Hovis adverts and decide to take disability rights back half a century or so? An advert like this might not have raised too many eyebrows 20 or 30 years ago, but then neither would Robertsons Golliwogs, and we all know what happens to people who mention them nowadays.
I am sure Action for Children have only the best of intentions, but the road to hell is paved with those, especially for disabled people who have been fighting for decades to overcome these sorts of portrayals, which have an unfortunate tendency to mark them out as basket cases in need of charity and therapy. Playing the pity card with a bit of disability retro chic may help the bottom line, but it does nothing whatsoever for people fighting for their human rights to inclusion and social justice, and will ultimately damage the very people the adverts claim to help. These adverts have now ceased, and I wish Action for Children all the best for the future, but when it comes to the portrayal of disability in advertising I hope an important little lesson has been learned.