Module 3: Screen Media Cultures

3.7 Ableism in Advertising

“Cogeco provides superfast fibre-powered Internet, flexible TV and Residential Home Phone services” –, September 2020

“Keeping up with friends is faster and easier than ever” –Facebook, Apps on Google Play, September 2020

“Phones, Internet and TV on Canada’s fastest network” –, September 2020

Examining our imagination about the future is important, in part, for what it reveals about the present. According to Alison Kafer (2013), whose work on crip time we explored earlier in this module, “the imagined future invoked in popular culture, academic theory, and politics movements” allow us to “trace the ways in which compulsory able-bodiedness/able-mindedness and compulsory heterosexuality intertwine in the service of normativity” (p. 17).

Our purpose now is to look at advertisements for technology that promise to bring us into that future, one that we are led to believe will be faster, more efficient, and more productive then the present. Though these advertisements don’t depict the future, or the present, in an obvious way, they do each express their own norms, biases, and values.


In Restricted Access, Elizabeth Ellcessor (2016) analyzes the iPad commercial above, noting the way women are framed as less technologically competent than men — they “already know how to use it,” no additional technology learning required —  and describing the class markers such as business-wear and leisure time that signal that screen technology is targeted at middle- and upper-class users. We want to think about advertisements along similar lines as Ellcessor, paying close attention to what their messages might imply for disability, and the relationship between disability and technology.

When examining our mockup ads below, consider what we have already discussed about crip-time and cripping technology. Recall how cripping technoscience and time both draw attention to a cultural obsession with speed, size, and productivity. What role do advertisements like those below have in reinforcing this obsession, and how might they be encouraging society to think of disability, slowness, and mental or embodied difference, as shortcomings which need to be ‘fixed’?

Consider, too, what we have proposed about a possible future, and possible role for technology, wherein disabled people are not ‘fixed’, ‘made faster’, or ‘made more productive’ using technology, but instead enabled to live within their particular embodiments.

We’re now going to analyze the ideology of communications technology in advertising. The constructed advertisements in this activity draw inspiration from an array of back-to-school, telecommunication, computer, mobile device, and software promotions.

Dark text on a pale grey background reads: “Ultra Fibre 450. Student offer on unlimited & ultrafast Internet.” Beside the text, a Black student with curly hair sits at a laptop. The laptop is covered in stickers, including an airplane and a guitar. The background is blue, with a pinky orange symbol of internet access.
Advertisement 1. Image credit: Morgan Sea Thomson.
Black text on a pale grey background reads "Unlimited Internet and Mobility offers for Students. Sign up for Fize Internet and get Abble AirBods on us when you purchase any smartphone or an eligible 2-year plan with Fize Smart Payments." To the left of this text, a gleaming chrome laptop is open, displaying “Fize” in large white letters on a blue background. Lighter streaks of blue radiate out from the centre. There is also an image of a smartphone, the case or cover in artful smudges of pink, salmon, and blue, and an image of a set of white earbuds.
Advertisement 2. Image credit: Morgan Sea Thomson.
White text on a small purple banner reads "Limited time offer." Below, large purple text on a white background reads "Get 20GB of high-speed data for only $75 a month during our Great Big Sale.” Underneath this announcement, small black text reads “With a Piece of Cake Plan, you can enjoy endless data and avoid overage worries. Our Great Big Sale ends September 8 so shop now to save on the latest smartphones, accessories, and more.” To the right of this text is an image of a capybara.
Advertisement 3. Image credit: Morgan Sea Thomson.

To analyze these advertisements, consider the questions in the box below. Pay attention to the represented or suggested relationship between technology and bodies, how disability does or does not enter the frame, and what kinds of ideologies underscore these ads for telecommunication companies—both their services and their digital devices.


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Digital Methods for Disability Studies Copyright © 2022 by Esther Ignagni is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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