Candace Owens took to her platforms this week and — to absolutely no one’s surprise — delivered a pointless attack on a marginalized community.
Speaking from her dedicated program on the far-right platform the Daily Wire, Owens offered a bizarre statement about a beautifully inclusive shoot for the SKIMS adaptive clothing line that featured models with disabilities. What was unique about this particular rant was that it was a no-holds-barred attack on disabled people, a community that most people don’t intentionally target with hot garbage, malicious content.
Owens even went as far as to share an image of Haleigh Rosa from the campaign, complaining that: “I really don’t know how far we’re going to take this inclusivity thing. I really don’t get it. If I’m wrong, educate me. Today I just want to be educated in the comments.”
Well Ms. Owens: Class is in session, and I’m your professor. My qualifications are that I’m a person with four disabilities, and I own an agency, Misfit Media, solely led by disabled people. All we do is help marketing agencies or in-house teams create inclusive content. We start with anti-ableism education (which you clearly need) and then go into strategy, campaign planning and execution and then PR (which you clearly don’t understand).
We are the best in the biz at what we do, so while I doubt your sincerity in wanting to learn, I do believe I am the best person to equip you and anyone curious with some important reasons why not just SKIMS, but all brands, need to include disabled people in their content.
The moral obligation
Most people believe that because the ADA was passed over 30 years ago that — *poof* — all of the problems facing disabled people went away. This is simply not the case, and the reality is that the ADA is not a self-enforcing law. The burden of enforcing it is on disabled people advocating for ourselves. There are no checkups to ensure people and businesses adhere to it, and the process to file complaints is so long, emotionally grueling, and expensive that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reports less than 13 percent of complaints of discrimination are settled.
Despite the popular belief that things are getting better for disabled people, statistics show us that inequities persist. Take just three recent reports:
- According to the Bureau of Labor, less than 20 percent of people who identified as disabled were employed in 2022 (and this includes those working for subminimum wage).
- The 2020 Annual Statistics Compendium showed that disabled people were over 2x as likely to be living in poverty than non-disabled people.
- The Bureau of Justice reports that disabled people are 4x more likely to experience crimes of violence than non-disabled people.
One of the best tools we have in our belt to combat ableism is representation. Despite being over 25 percent of the population, disabled people are only represented in media, marketing, and entertainment content a maximum of 3.1 percent of the time. While we don’t have great data on how accurate disability representation could impact society’s view on disability, we do have powerful data that shows how effective representation has been for other communities.
For example, we have real evidence that positive LGBTQIA+ media representation helped transform public opinions about the community and their rights. In 2019, the Pew Research Center reported that the general US population significantly changed their views of same-sex marriage in just 15 years, with 60 percent of the population being opposed in 2004 to 61 percent in favor in 2019. While a number of factors likely influenced these perspective shifts, studies suggest that positive LGBTQIA+ media depictions played a significant role.
Those who create content, create culture. We know that public opinion is shaped by what we see in the media. That’s why there’s a global ad industry of $766 billion that is expected to hit $1 trillion by 2025. By intentionally leaving disabled people out of the media, creative professionals are reinforcing the same implicit bias that motivated the Ugly Laws, which forbade disabled people deemed “too unsightly” from being seen in public places. The last of these laws was only overturned in the 1970s, highlighting the imperative for creative professionals take disability inclusion seriously to help undo the stigma surrounding disability.
The business ROI
While Owens clearly does not give one fuck about the moral obligation society has to build a better world for disabled people – or any people, for that matter – one thing I know this woman understands is money. So, let’s talk about that.
It’s important to recognize the massive buying power of disabled people and disability-adjacent communities. The U.S. Office of Disability Employment Policy categorizes persons with disabilities as the third-largest market segment in the U.S., after Hispanics and African-Americans. The discretionary income for working-age persons with disabilities is $21 billion—greater than that of the African-American and Hispanic segments combined.
Companies that employ more disabled people have double the net income, 28 percent higher revenue, and 30 percent higher economic profit margins. It’s a win for our community, it’s a win for your business.
I’ll state this even more plainly for Candace: There are more than 1 billion disabled people worldwide. Businesses that recognize this as an opportunity can benefit from increased sales and brand loyalty among this demographic. By including disabled people in their campaigns, companies can demonstrate their commitment to diversity, which in turn can increase customer trust and loyalty. Since disabled people are often underrepresented in mainstream media and advertising, campaigns featuring them tend to stand out from the crowd and create powerful impactful messages that resonate with audiences.
Owens also mocks “whoever was behind this ridiculous campaign” and says that persons should be fired, which is interesting given that this inclusivity campaign has been a massive win for SKIMS. This may come as a shock to Ms. Owens, but disabled people wear underwear and have sex.
Disabled people need accessible items, and because SKIMS prioritized inclusivity, they won our business. I’d hope a member of the political party that loves capitalism would understand this very basic economic principle… but that’s a lot from someone who likely believes trickle-down economics is the GOAT financial policy.