Okay so I was really torn about posting this because immediate assumptions would be made about the fact that I work at a competitor charity in the same area of support and provision (full disclosure there), but I’m going to say positive things about the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign as well as question the imagery and tone of their latest poster – which I snapped here at Wimbledon train station.
For me, the image of the lonely looking boy, Bradley, staring out at us from the dreary colourless landscape (it wasn’t just my mobile phone or the light making it dark) strikes a very vivid and deliberate tone of isolation and exclusion. ‘Okay’, you might say, ‘they’re painting a picture…’
But next that unforgivable strapline. Surely the point of the equipment he has (or rather needs, as his chair looks a little too big for him and ‘standard’ NHS / clunky) is to free him up and make him independent and active? A really cool wheelchair (which the MD Campaign can provide I’m sure – yay!) becomes his key to mobility and inclusion. But the line that he can’t ‘walk away’ is placing an enormous emotional charge in the wrong area. Whether it’s a reference to his inability to walk (don’t go there), or a clumsy finger-point at the casual reader who can ‘walk away’ from the issue (of disability? charity? funding a new wheelchair for Bradley?); it objectifies Bradley as pitiful and helpless. It’s a bit of a cheap guilt-inducement in my opinion.
It also kind of presumes that the casual reader or potential donor (although there is an absence of a fundraising ask) is a non-disabled person – and not a fellow wheelchair-user that can ‘wheel away’ as they please.
The point here is that our sector should be trying to innovate fundraising and awareness-raising by working hand-in-hand with the people we support. Absolutely, the lived-experiences and voices of our (pick a term) service users / clients / beneficiaries should be at the forefront of our messages. But personally I think – hope – that we are past the stage where we objectify them. Rather we should seek to make their stories our stories to challenge public assumptions about what we can positively achieve if we work together [great debate going on over here about this].
I think the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign is doing some really cool things, and both its website – and their 2009/10 Tesco Charity of The Year TV adverts carry some really great, positive images of young disabled people. The charity has clear links on their site to advice about initial diagnosis, and publications for carers and families; as well as some strong campaigns asks that appear to be driven by disabled people.
Let me make this clear – my big question mark is over this one ‘Bradley’ campaign poster, which also features a url link to Bradley’s story in a video on the website, which actually (apart from not speaking to him directly, only his mum) shows him to be pretty fun-loving and playful.
So my questions don’t come from spite, but rather a belief that we can be powerful without amplifying powerlessness. What do you think?