New ad campaign jolts passers-by into thinking about disabilities



    If you live in Pennsylvania, in the last month or so, you may have noticed little signs on park benches or bus stops featuring thought bubbles.

    The bubbles hold harsh messages such as, “Handicapped people should just stay home” or “They call it ADHD, I call it bad parenting.”

    It may seem controversial, but Graham Mulholland, the executive director of the Pennsylvania Disabilities Council, said choosing those messages was a calculated risk.

    “People were saying you’ve got to be very careful, you can’t hurt people’s feelings,” said Mulholland. “And people with disabilities themselves were saying, ‘We hear this stuff every day, you’ve got to put it out there, use these statements.'”

    • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

    In fact, the messages themselves came out of real things people said during focus groups.

    Below those provocative statements were other thought bubbles that asked, “What are you thinking?”

    The goal is to entice people, all over Pennsylvania, to go to the campaign’s website for information about disabilities.

    The new strategy is a big departure for the council, which previously tried to present people with disabilities as heroic. That, Mulholland said, didn’t work very well.

    “In the end, we decided that the stigma doesn’t really reside as a quality in the person with the disability, and really resides in the person who’s doing the stigmatizing,” he said.

    The new strategy, he said, has had a bigger effect. Given the harsh nature of their content, the thought bubbles only stayed up for a few weeks.

    “We still get a lot of calls from people who are paying attention to the message. The message seems to have long legs,” he said.

    The next step, he said, is to get these messages into schools to connect kids with their content.

    WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal