Holland Bloorview puts ableism at the forefront

The kids rehabilitation hospital is trying to make a less-understood social inequity more concrete for Canadians.


While other “isms” – like racism and sexism – are straightforwardly defined and well-known, ableism is a concept many Canadians still can’t wrap their head around, and Holland Bloorview is looking to change that.

Ableism is the discrimination towards someone based on their abilities. And in year five of its “Dear Everybody” campaign, Holland Bloorview is asking the public to confront the stigmatizing of people with disabilities head on, whether it’s hurtful lingering stares or activities that are exclusionary, like a store that’s not accessible.

The kids rehab hospital is urging all of us to talk about “ableism,” a term which can only be defined by a third of us, according to a Leger study – as compared with near unanimity for the terms “racism” and “sexism.” Other findings from the survey include that almost 80% of Canadians agree that society favours those that do not have a disability.

Campaign elements include six heartfelt testimonials from young people with disabilities, both seen and unseen.

In one spot, Rachel talks about the assumptions people make because they can’t see her disability at first glance. In another, Gavi talks about the frustration she faces with a speech impairment to address the ways ableism slips into our conversations, unknown to even the most well-meaning person. And in another, Tai asks the viewer to name a single famous actor with a disability to draw attention to just how distant a priority the group is when it comes to casting roles in mainstream entertainment. The latter concept is a means of drawing campaign continuity to Holland Bloorview directly calling out advertisers and the media to be inclusive of people with disabilities in previous campaigns.



Ashleigh Saith, VP of strategy and public engagement at the Holland Bloorview Foundation, says for the first couple of years, the “Dear Everybody” messaging was about general awareness and fighting stigma, but it morphed into something more direct, like specific calls to action for industries to sign pledges of inclusivity. This year, it wanted to encourage people to have direct conversations about ableism. 

Ableism is a concept that is still not getting a great deal of attention and understanding, even as important issues like racism and transphobia have been brought more into the public consciousness.

“We kinda wanted to leverage this moment in time where people are a bit more aware about what’s going on in terms of societal inequities,” she says.

When it comes to activation, this is also a traditional time for Holland Bloorview to be in market as it prepares for its fall fundraising campaign.

The campaign includes a mix of radio, digital, some OOH, and social, and for the latter it’s making sure there’s a user-generated content component, working with influencers for the first time this year to amplify messaging and the voices of the people it is trying to serve.

Saith says ad spend is in line with past efforts, and the cause is aimed at young parents with a connection to social justice issues, and people who are more digital savvy overall.

The Toronto-based arm of Forsman & Bodenfors has been the lead on the creative for the “Dear Everybody” campaign since it launched in 2017. On the media buy side, Holland Bloorview handled things internally.