First a confession – I have a disability and I like Andrew Peacock. I think he is Australia’s lost Prime Minister. Here was a politician who is jovial, witty and urbane, with an exotic name and a touch of Camelot. Who could resist the possibility of Hollywood star psychic Shirley MacLean becoming Australia’s first lady? Or the Lodge bedecked with sunlamps and copies of Horse and Hound? The possibilities for ripping political caricature were endless.
While Andrew dutifully trotted out the usual dreary lines about working harder and raising productivity, one sensed that here was a sensible man who loved the good things in life and really could make Australians “relaxed and comfortable”.
An Australia with Andrew in charge would be one where we could all happily slip off at lunchtime to place bets at the local TAB before a round of tennis or a spot of tanning under the sunlamp.
Even the political scandals would suggest rest and relaxation. Andrew’s greatest brush with infamy involved his wife advertising a luxury brand of bed sheets. No 24Kevin here.
Now, it’s a strain I know, but cast your minds way back to August 2010 (the endless election, Latham, leaks, debates about debates – see it’s coming back in a post hangover, cloudy sort of way) – and imagine my angst when I heard Andrews’s gaffe where he said that “you’d have to be pretty handicapped not to appreciate this Government is dissolving before your eyes daily”.
Worse still he compounded it all during a cracking interview on 666 ABC Canberra by trying to explain it was actually … a horse racing metaphor. Oh, Andrew.
With hero worship pushed to breaking point, I decided that maybe he was just a bit confused. After all there are a lot of different things to call us – physically challenged, impaired, disabled, handicapped and more. And people use different ones all the time. It’s classic brand confusion.
So as a marketing professional with personal experience of disability, it struck me that maybe what we needed to do was to “redefine our brand” and – in true, Gruen Nation style – look at the taglines which best made our pitch and when to use them.
Well, here goes:
Physically/mentally challenged: On the plus side this sounds inspiring and positive. I mean isn’t it wonderful what these poor folk can do? Life is a challenge and we just have to … move forward. Set to the strains of “Climb Every Mountain” or a Whitney Houston concert this cannot fail to move you, if only to the nearest bucket.
Verdict: 4/10 – use with anti-nausea medication.
Crippled: While unloved it is clear, direct and has impact. If it’s a reaction you’re after, using terminology like this will get you one. Probably with a 100 kiloton warhead attached. Also has negative baggage from broader use i.e, “industrial action has crippled the State’s electricity supply”.
Verdict 2/10 – use only after consulting focus groups, resigning your job and hiring a PR crisis management firm
The handicapped: The one that started it all. This is not intentionally derogatory as much as strange and anachronistic. Summons up memories from my childhood of bright yellow buses on the way to special school plus social workers and therapists with horn-rimmed glasses who just wanted to help.
Verdict 4/10 – use only if the 70’s come back into vogue again, you are old enough to remember them and so old that you really do clearly recall what you were doing at the time.
People with impairment: Used a lot by Federal pollies. Certainly accurate, inclusive and harmless. A bit technical sounding with science-fiction overtones. Imagine a Dalek with putty smeared over its eyestalk screeching “Ass-ist-ance-required! My-vision-is-impaired! I-can-not-see”
Verdict 7/10 – use for that extra PC boost or when trying to pull at the bar of a Doctor Who convention.
Deformed: Favoured usage of 60 Minutes journalist and third way commentator Mark Latham, who called former Liberal Party President Tony Staley a deformed character. This term is certainly memorable. It’s also evocative … if you want to evoke elves, Charles Laughton pulling on church bells and social attitudes during the time of Geoffrey Chaucer.
Verdict 0/10 – use only when you have nothing left to lose. Like Mark.
Person with a disability: Puts the person first, makes sense and easy to remember but sounds vaguely uncommitted, as if you need to be persuaded that we are still people. Lacks the colour and punch of some of the other options but is simple and b) gets the message across.
Verdict 8/10 –ticks most of the boxes for a good tagline but lacks commitment.
Over to you and cue offended people and humourless bloggers to complain about spending time worrying about language when we should be scribing about serious issues.
The disabled: Frowned on but still in use and coming back. Unlikely to get you fined by a Human Rights tribunal. Sounds heavy and vaguely menacing i.e, “the disabled are massing at the borders and something must be done”. Often used in relation to disabled toilets – presumably meaning that the toilet has a problem requiring support.
Verdict 9/10 – OK and flags a disability identity but needs a lighter tone and sexing up.
It’s too late for Andrew but I’m off to design the logo, the social media strategy and the theme song!
Craig Wallace is a marketing manager and project coordinator with Nican a national community organisation and has been a community leader with various organisations for more than a decade. He is the President of People with Disability Australia, a leading cross disability rights organisation in Australia and is a member of the ACT BLITS business group.