Disability can help you make money and change family values? Recent advertisements from India

The classic way to use your disability to make money is by begging. There’s even pyramid schemes based around disability. Recently in India, big corporates are getting in on the act, using disability and cancer to help sell their products. Stories of differently-abled are working for advertisers is a handy article on livemint mentioning this recent crop. This Nescafe advertisement of a stammering comedian is one that I’d already seen.

The comedian struggles, is ignored, then learns to make a joke of his stammer, and it turns out at the end that its coffee that’s been keeping him and us going. This article has some more about the clip. Ok and so if you weren’t moved by this, try a couple of videos about fathers with their disabled children made by life insurance companies.

Khud ko lar buland features a father with a son on the autism spectrum. Initially shocked by the diagnosis, the father rallies around, supports and plays with his son. Oh no! the father loses his job. But rallies around again to start his own business and spend more time with his son. Was that sweet enough? Try another:

A girl with a prosthetic leg is, with the support of her father, learning to be a classical dancer. Awww. Actually I found this quite moving. See here for a description on how our heart-strings get pulled. And just in case you haven’t had enough sweetness and love for one day, I will let you go and look at brave and beautiful by a company selling hair products.

Ok, so I have mixed feelings about these. A recent article on US advertisements on disabled people points out that disabled people aren’t here to inspire you:

If their ads make people look at disabled people a little more positively, then I can see there’s a benefit. I just wish that we were being encouraged to admire them, rather then feel inspired by them.

These adverts from Indian companies are also coming close to being what Stella Young would have called inspiration porn. In the life insurance advertisements, disability is being used to exaggerate the dependence of the child and the responsibility of the father. Implicitly this is surely tapping into the idea that disabled people can’t look after themselves: so you’d better buy some life insurance before it happens to you. And, oh, yeah, to film the coffee advertisement they met a bunch of comedians that actually stammer but of course you wouldn’t use them to act the film, would you?

It’s easy to attack. But on the other hand I feel there’s something important that these advertisements are showing about attitudes towards disability in South Asia; and quite possibly the advertisements are contributing to changing the way people see it. In these stories disability here is acknowledged, and even more than acknowledged – #MyFamilyMyPride is the tag of the dancing girl advertisement. Brilliant that we feel pride in a daughter in disability where so often it is assumed that the default response would be to hide and deny. And, to a certain extent, what the disabled people themselves want to do is being respected, encouraged and celebrated. The daughter wants to be a dancer? The father will support her to do that, not hassle her into marrying the right person or getting the right sort of job. These adverts are from a vision of modern India in which the traditional family has broken or changed, but its close values remain intact. It’s fantastic that disability is part of that vision, and contributes to realising it.

Thanks to Shashaank for sharing the original link and Rustom for sharing some ideas.

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