Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Disabled In The Advertising Business

Many of you know that I was struck by a taxi in 2015. I am recovering, albeit slowly.  I am lucky enough to be a recruiter so that I can continue to work.  But it has left me wondering where disabled people are in the advertising business.   

The ad business is struggling with diversity.  Some agencies have added executives whose entire job it is to find and hire people of ethnicity and color.  That is great, but there is another group of people who are simply not represented in advertising.  

The disabled. 

I have seen estimates that senior citizens, over 65, have a rate of impairment of about 30%; that includes people who must use walkers, wheelchairs or have other debilitating issues.  However, surely there is a high percentage of people of working age who are fully able to work but are confined to a wheelchair; I am sure many of these people have brilliant minds.  I am also sure that Stephen Hawking would not be hired by an advertising agency.
Being disabled does not mean unable to work.  It means, simply, that a person has some sort of impairment.  In many cases, it simply means being confined to a wheelchair, but that has nothing to do with willingness or ability to work in any situation. I realize, looking back, I have almost never seen anyone confined to a wheelchair who is actively working and employed in advertising. Certainly none are senior executives.

The late, great Harold Levine (Levine, Huntly, Schmidt and Beaver) spent ten years of his retirement and his own money going around the country trying to recruit people of color into the advertising business.  He concluded it was a fool’s errand because ad agencies simply didn’t pay enough to attract the best and the brightest grad students. (While ad agencies pay entry level MBA’s about $40m per year, companies are paying twice that and law firms are paying well into the $100’s for the best students.)

The disabled are not included.  But it is my observation is that there are thousands of talented but wheelchair bound people who would be delighted to work in advertising.  And they would be thankful for whatever they are paid.


  1. Hey Paul … Let’s forget about hiring “seniors” for a second, because nobody wants them around anyway, and focus on our younger disabled U.S. military veterans. As sharp as any pencil in the box, but maybe missing an arm or leg (if not both) from combat in Afghanistan, Iraq, or wherever. I’ve been in the agency business for 40 years and I am a Vietnam veteran, and I can count the number of vets I’ve worked with on one hand. As for the disabled of any kind, I’ve never met one on the job. Have you? Just wondering …

    1. Hi Bill, That was the whole point of this post. My files contain more than 16000 people in advertising and marketing; I have never interviewed a single disabled person.

  2. I recall encountering a wheelchair bound creative at, I think, WCJ, back in the mid-1990s. That’s one ought of hundreds of folks I met in 30 years in marketing. You’re right Paul, a sorry showing.

  3. Thank you for pointing out this very important issue. I work as an artist and advocate in the field of education, and I am constantly challenging school administrators to align their personnel with their policies. Here is something worth considering - how many people in advertising agencies have hidden disabilities like ADHD, Learning disabilities, autism... I’m willing to bet that there is a disproportionately large number of people with disabilities working advertising, but they don’t have the visual cues to indicate to others that they are “different.” - LeDerick Horne

    1. LeDerick, thanks for pointing that out. I am sure you are right.

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