Holland Bloorview calls on ad industry to be more inclusive

The hospital's latest "Dear Everybody" effort gives brands clear direction on how to better represent people with disabilities.


Toronto’s Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital is calling on the advertising and media industries to be more inclusive and representative of people with disabilities in the latest iteration of its three-year-old “Dear Everybody” campaign.

For the last two years, Holland Bloorview has worked with kids and families that come through its door to help educate the public on childhood disability, with a particular focus on the stigma and stereotypes that persist in how they are represented in the media, says Sandra Hawken, president and CEO of the Holland Bloorview Foundation.

In the first year of the campaign – created by agency KBS Canada, a relationship that is continuing with Forsman & Bodenfors – kids served as copywriters and penned an open letter detailing their experiences with stigma. That was followed by last year’s effort in which they served as art directors, appearing in a series of posters depicting how they view themselves.

This year, Hawken says the hospital wanted to build on that momentum by asking companies and brands to sign a “Dear Everybody Agreement,” pledging to create work that is representative of all Canadians, including those with disabilities. The general public, meanwhile, is being invited through the campaign to to show their support for brands that are inclusive and to demand that others follow suit.

Posters includes placeholder descriptions instead of actual images of people with disabilities, showing how easy it would be for advertisers to improve their representation, while also reminding them of the group’s lack of representation.

A 2019 survey by Leger that found that while 22% of Canadians live with a disability, 60% of Canadians could not recall seeing any representation of disability in ads during the previous year. Other insights for the “Dear Everybody Agreement” campaign came directly from speaking with kids and families at Holland Bloorview.

“If images of one group are missing from our visual landscape, they’re also missing from our collective imagination and the way we think about the world around us, and this is what contributes to the stigma around people with disabilities,” Hawken says.

One video in the campaign specifically targets the advertising industry. In it, an actor is seen participating in a series of scenarios common in commercial casting, revealing only at the end that he is using a wheelchair. In addition, kids and adults with disabilities were involved in creating a more public-facing radio spot and video that will launch in mid-September. The hospital will also have a pop-up at the Toronto Eaton Centre from Sept. 20 to 22, and some campaign assets will remaining in market until the end of December.

Media, production and creative development was donated by Holland Bloorview’s partners. This year, donated media will amount to roughly $1 million in addition to creative and production costs. Its own contribution will have amounted to roughly $150,000.