Disability and advertising: a lived experience
Leo Burnett Melbourne creative director, Chris Jovanov, makes award-winning work that lives at the intersection of humanity and technology. Before Leo’s, his career has taken him to R/GA New York, as well as to AKQA and Clemenger locally. Born with a disability, he understands more than most how vital to the human experience creative problem solving can be. Chris shares how living with a disability has impacted his career in advertising.
I was born missing most of my left hand.
How this affects the work I create
My interest is the intersection between humanity and technology. I understand this more than most, as I am part technology—I use a robotic prosthetic that I helped design for a range of everyday tasks. This has given me an intimate understanding of the struggles of making technology integrate with life in meaningful ways.
My practice involves giving creatives a better empathy for technology, and technologists a better empathy for creativity. I know firsthand that great modern work can only happen when we get this delicate balance right.
My experience in advertising with a disability
It's been mainly positive, that said I wear a prosthetic so most people don't even know about it until I mention it. I don't want to be treated in any special way or draw unwanted attention so it works fine for me. Having worked in both the U.S and Australia, I find that most people are respectful. I've only had one incident at a Melbourne agency I worked at a couple years back. A fairly senior planner which I didn't know well made an insensitive joke which really pissed me off. Outside of that, everyone's been great about it.
The benefits of employing people with a disability
I'm not really sure if many people think of disability when talking about diversity. I guess we are a minority—I haven't come across anyone else with a disability that I know off in my 14-year career in advertising. I'm sure there's plenty but I haven't encountered them.
I think there are a few benefits in hiring people with disabilities. First is the diversity in thinking and experience.
From a young age I had to be creative with problem solving. Simple things like tying a shoe lace, riding a bike or cutting meat with one hand required little inventions or tricks to perform.
It cultivated a creative problem solving mindset that helps me to this day at work. I guess it teaches you to over compensate in some skills, like a blind person developing acute hearing to navigate the world. That can be a real advantage in problem solving and human insight.
People with disabilities are also way more empathetic and open minded. That's a bit of a blanket statement but by simply being different and having to deal with ridicule from a young age, you grow to be way more resilient yet tolerant of everyone.
Disability in advertising campaigns
I've definitely noticed a trend in the last few years of brands attempting to help people with disabilities, which is awesome to see. The Microsoft Xbox Adaptive Controller and Coles Quiet Hour are some recent examples that come to mind.
I've also been following the success of Rebekah Marine, who is a bionic fashion model in the U.S. It all helps to change perceptions, which I think is great, and I hope to see more of it in the future.