We need more advertisements portraying people with disabilities

A recent television ad by Expedia and Wheel the World does it right

Ed Tobias avatar

by Ed Tobias |

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I nearly jumped for joy — well, I would’ve if I could’ve — when I saw a new TV commercial for the Expedia travel company the other day.

It shows a woman in winter who’s obviously had enough of the cold, ice, and snow. She is desperate to escape to warmer climes — and needs to take her wheelchair with her.

Been there, done that? I have, but I’d never seen an internet travel company reach out to people with mobility problems, like those of us who have multiple sclerosis. The 30-second commercial gave me hope that a major travel company might actually understand our needs.

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Expedia has partnered in this effort with Wheel the World, a company I’d never heard of before the ad. It specializes in accessible travel, and with this partnership, Expedia provides its users access to a database of hotel rooms that can be searched according to accessibility needs and preferences. Sure, the commercial was a business decision, but it seems that tapping into this special needs market is good business.

Expedia isn’t the first company to do this. Several years ago, I wrote a column about some humorous ads for Maltesers candy that featured people with disabilities. Although the links from my column to those ads have expired, I found another one. It’ll probably give you a chuckle.

Guinness had a commercial that focused on wheelchair basketball.

While these two were great, when was the last time you saw a similar ad featuring someone with a disability?

The exception, not the rule

Except for someone in a wheelchair scooting by in the background, TV ads showing someone with a disability are rare. In 2021, the TV ratings company Nielsen reviewed nearly 450,000 prime-time broadcast and cable TV ads. Just 1% showed disability-related themes, visuals, or topics. Yet according to the World Health Organization, 1.3 billion people in the world live with a significant disability. The Nielsen report calls excluding disabled people from ads a “missed opportunity” and says that failing to “incorporate people with disabilities into everyday brand messaging could be costly.”

I agree. Expedia obviously gets it. Not only has it included us in its ad, it’s also making the service it sells more useful to us. I continue to travel, both domestically and internationally, and sometimes with my entire family, even though I use an electric scooter. The next time I book a trip, I’m going to check out Expedia and Wheel the World.

I wonder why more companies don’t make this type of effort to reach into our 1.3 billion wallets. Don’t you wonder, too?

You’re invited to visit my personal blog at www.themswire.com.

Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.


Brenda Cressy avatar

Brenda Cressy

I went to the Abilities Expo in LA in March and there was a couple there with wheelchair that fits in airplane aisle an folds up, stows in bag, and fits in overhead storage so you don’t have to wait for assistant to arrive to deplane. Unfortunately he had so many on order and no estimate on delivery.
Also website AccessibleGo has deals on ADA hotel rooms in various cities and you can book direct through them. Getting bit easier to travel in a chair.

Ed Tobias avatar

Ed Tobias

Hi Brenda,

Thanks for that info. Do you know the name of that chair? I'd like to at least take a look at it. BTW, did you see my column from a couple of weeks ago about how an aircraft seat is being created that would fold back to accommodate a power chair? https://multiplesclerosisnewstoday.com/columns/2023/06/16/air4all-hopes-make-wheelchair-flying-easier/


Renee Thomas avatar

Renee Thomas

When I was younger and travelled I found so many places terribly inadequate in accessibility. In the little I have seen since it doesn't seem to have increased much. Adding handicap parking at the end of the street when you need to go to the middle does little if you are walking. It is at the end as that is where a cut away is. When walking the high curb is hard to get over in the middle of the street and too exhausting to walk half the block and back.

Ed Tobias avatar

Ed Tobias

Hi Renee,

You're right on all counts. The other day I started to park in a handicapped spot and moved to a different one because I realized that the first spot was right next to a sidewalk with a curb cut. Had I parked there I would have blocked the cut that I needed to use for my scooter. I think I'll use that subject for an upcoming column along with your example, if you don't mind.


Sharon Kahan avatar

Sharon Kahan

It´s really interesting that you spotted this Ed- it is just SO important.how media portrays disability and specially MS...
I have MS since I was 19 (I am 51 now), and made my Master´s Degree at The London School of Economics. My thesis was exactly on that topic, it was really interesting to research ads by the British MS Society, knowing their objective comparing patients' and lay peoples' reactions & interpretations to them. It´s a fascinating topic but it´s also a fact that both need to be taken into account when planning messages before portraying them.

Ed Tobias avatar

Ed Tobias

Hi Sharon,

Thanks for your comments. In this column I didn't mention the way people with MS, and other illnesses, are portrayed in ads for treatments. Don't get me started. I have notes in my hip pocket for a column about that.


Lulu Howey avatar

Lulu Howey

Morning from France! This advert is all over Europe too and most importantly she is taking her doggy companion too!
Much needed as all disabilities are becoming much more accepted nowadays and the embarrassment sometimes felt becoming more acknowledged and helped.

Ed Tobias avatar

Ed Tobias

Bonjour, Lulu -

I'm glad you're seeing that ad all around EU. I've not seen it again following that one time. And yes, the puppy is important. We can't take our Yorkiepoo on longer trips, but he sure goes a lot of places.

A bientot,



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