Feb 14, 2023
Written by Rose Perry PhD, Co-Founder, Historicons
If you went online after the 2023 Super Bowl, chances are that you encountered the viral praise of the deaf American Sign Language (ASL) performer who made it possible for the deaf community to enjoy the halftime performance. (If not, check out the wonderful performance at the link below.) Audiences and news outlets alike applauded the stellar performance, which marked the first time a deaf woman performed at a Super Bowl halftime show. This was a groundbreaking moment for disability accessibility.
Or was it?
Upon my first watch of the viral ASL halftime performance, I thought, “Wow, what a talented and dynamic performance. This is so great for disability accessibility.” But as my news and social media feeds became increasingly flooded with shares and commentary on the performance, I was also struck with the sinking realization that the performance itself was only now being viewed on mainstream channels.
Deaf talking in sign language
Companies that have the forethought to center disability accessibility in their DEI initiatives enjoy a better public reputation and bottom line than companies that do not.GETTY
I watched the national broadcast of the Super Bowl on the television the night before, along with 118.7 million other people (the third most watched in history), but did not see the incredible performance anywhere on my screen. It took the general public making it go viral on social media for the groundbreaking deaf ASL performance to join the main stage.
In 2023, at a time when Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives have never been more widely adopted by organizations, disability accessibility remains an afterthought.
While the ASL performer’s viral act undoubtedly marks an iconic moment for disability inclusion, the companies responsible for broadcasting her performance failed to create an accessible experience for the nearly 10 million deaf or hard of hearing individuals living across the United States. To view the iconic performance, individuals were required to stream the Super Bowl through a separate, not-so-widely marketed online feed, which included not only the halftime performance, but also full performances of the National Anthem and “America the Beautiful” in ASL and Plains Indian Sign Language (PISL). For families with deaf individuals watching at home, that likely meant missing out on the inclusive performances, or watching on two separate devices (if two devices were available to them). For deaf individuals watching in public, that likely meant missing out on live performances altogether. And perhaps most harmfully, by failing to center accessibility in the national broadcast, the companies positioned disabled individuals to be viewed-as they so often are-as sidelined, not belonging in mainstream society.
As a woman with dwarfism, I am familiar with what it feels like to be provided access in theory, but like I do not belong in reality, especially when it comes to experiencing and enjoying live productions and performances. I generally do not fare well in the crowds of live performances, being knocked or blocked by people who tower over me. I receive glares for trying to move myself towards the front of general admission areas, so I can have a shot at seeing the stage. I have to separate from my friends or family to take advantage of accessible viewing areas, and have even been denied access to them because I am not a wheelchair user. More often than not, I end up listening to the performances while the singers or actors remain out of my line of sight, or skip out on attending these experiences altogether.
Similar accessibility barriers lead to the exclusion of many disabled people who try to go to a movie theater or attend film festivals. There is a long and persistent history of organizations failing to provide accessible options, contributing to the harmful perception that disabled people do not belong in community spaces and cultural life.
Businesses throughout the U.S. are making progress with their DEI initiatives, but accessibility for people with disabilities is frequently ranked low on the priority list. This is despite the fact that organizations that get disability accessibility right are well-positioned to experience windfalls. Companies that champion disability accessibility and inclusion report revenues and profit margins that are respectively 28 and 30 percent higher than those of their competitors. On the flip side, companies with poor accessibility spur 75% of people with disabilities to take their business elsewhere. Organizations with poor accessibility practices also risk damaging their reputation, especially in the eyes of Millennials and Generation Z, who form the largest proportion of the global consumer base.
Championing disability accessibility is not only the right thing to do, it is also good for business.
So, this is a call to action to companies (and audiences) everywhere. Remember that disability accessibility is not only good for building a better world, but for building a better business. The research is clear: companies that have the forethought to center disability accessibility in their DEI initiatives enjoy a better public reputation and bottom line than companies that do not. And audiences, as you continue to push the share button on examples of disability inclusion like the incredible ASL halftime performance, also continue to push companies to make more progress when it comes to providing disability accessibility.
People with disabilities aren’t a sideshow: they belong on the main stage.
This is a content marketing post from a Forbes EQ participant. Forbes brand contributors’ opinions are their own.