Josh Loebner Shares Expertise at January Signature Series Luncheon

At our Signature Series Luncheon on Jan. 15, the American Marketing Association — Birmingham chapter heard from diversity, inclusion and equality expert Josh Loebner. Loebner serves as director of strategy for Designsensory and is a current Clemson University doctoral candidate whose research focuses on advertising and disability.

Loebner’s presentation, “Advertising, Disability and the Diversity Directive,” highlighted the scope of buying power of minority and disabled audiences, as his research showcases powerful stories of inclusion in advertising and presents ideas on how members can increase connections with a diverse and inclusive audience through their work.

When he was born, Josh only weighed 2.5 lbs – growing up, he developed glaucoma in his left eye and eventually had it removed and replaced with a glass eye. His entire life, he has been partially blind and visually impaired, but that has never stopped him – it gives him a personal and unique perspective on his research.

Loebner emphasized how in this day in age, many companies are working to integrate disability and diversity into their products to promote inclusion and equality at a young age. For example, Barbie makes dolls in wheelchairs, Legos are made with Braille and the 2020 American Girl Doll of the Year is disabled.

“All of the choices we make in advertising and marketing promote belonging.”

In this day in age, we need to reject ableism, or discrimination and social prejudice against people with disabilities or who are perceived to have disabilities, because “the -isms create barriers” Those -isms include racism, sexism, ageism and ableism, and they create institutional, physical, societal, interpersonal and experiential barriers.

Loebner pointed out that most advertisers and marketers don’t understand just how large the disabled audience is and what opportunities they could be missing out on with a target audience. Not only that, but the audience is going to continue to grow – we could all be a part of this audience one day, whether its due to aging, an accident or other outside force. 

Disability Impacts All of Us – CDC

Additionally, the average earnings between people with and without a disability are miniscule – this just reinforces that as marketers, we should continue to look at a person holistically, or with an awareness of intersectionality.

Not only are there considerations to be made for the disabled audiences when planning campaigns – there is also the operational side to consider. Loebner addressed the following areas:

Website Accessibility

You may have heard of the recent lawsuit brought against Domino’s by a man who is visually impaired and couldn’t order pizza because their website was not accessible for the disabled – the Supreme Court refused to hear the case, bringing a win for disability advocates. While not a federal mandate, it’s important to take that step. 

Other considerations: 

  • Low color contrast ratios and certain fonts to make it easier for everyone to read information more clearly 
  • Main navigation menus need to be easy to navigate – especially easy to find accessibility information
  • Terminology best practices – use the right terminology to make your website more welcoming to people and demonstrate your familiarity with accessibility. 
    • Not: “Disabled Guests”
    • Instead: Guests with Disabilities
  • Backend audit – use backend technology to provide alt text for screen readers. It also helps with SEO!

Disability in Advertising 

In 2018, less than 20 brands included disability portrayals in their integrated campaigns – we as marketers can do better to remove the barriers and promote belonging. However, Loebner did provide examples of ads that are doing it well:

And finally, Loebner shared five final thoughts —

  1. Start conversations with organizations, consultants and individuals to become more connected with people with disabilities.
  2. Welcome recruitment of people with disabilities into your agency’s workforce.
  3. Be inclusive of people with disabilities in market research. 
  4. Be open to including people with disabilities in creatives. 
  5. Recognize that people with disabilities are part of clients’ customer mix – buying products, using services and being brand loyal. 

About Josh Loebner

Loebner is on the industry’s premier think tank for diversity and inclusion, the American Advertising Federation Mosaic Council, he is a Hall of Fame inductee and was awarded the National Silver Medal for outstanding contributions to advertising by furthering greater inclusion of people with disabilities.

Loebner writes for Adweek and his chapter in The Routledge Companion to Disability and Media offers a comprehensive survey of advertising at the intersection of disability and media studies. He serves on Knoxville’s Council on Disability Issues. 

Connect with Loebner on Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter at @JoshLoebner. You can also connect with him at