imageAs of today the bear is gone. The Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children (RIDBC) have promised to remove the bear today in response to community feedback. Yesterday RIDBC CEO, Chris Rehn contacted the Rebuttal. This is what he had to say.

As the Chief Executive of RIDBC the approval of the noted campaign rested with me. The ad has been concluded and all “Yellow Bears” will be removed today / tonight.

By way of explanation the ad was not designed to reflect a person who is deaf or blind but to associate “eyes and ears” with RIDBC a task that often proves difficult from a general community perspective. The fact that the comparison has been made, and, has caused distress is enough for immediate cessation of the probono campaign.

RIDBC is committed to giving children the best start in life through its high quality educational programs and services. I will ensure that same high quality approach is applied to our general community awareness campaigns and media activities.

Now I am pleased that Mr Rehn has accepted responsibility. I am pleased that he has agreed to remove all advertising. I imagine he had been in contact with the RIDBC board over the weekend and that it was a joint decision. Now while I am pleased that RIDBC have listened to the feedback I have to say this small victory is bittersweet.

I know several people that work in the deafness area at RIDBC. They are committed and dedicated professionals.  Some of them are among Australia’s most prominent academics and professionals in the field of deafness. I am conscious that when I wrote the article “I Saw A Bear” it may have caused them some distress. I find it hard to believe that any of these academics, based on my knowledge of them, would have supported this campaign. Perhaps it was a case of management not consulting closely enough with them. Nevertheless they, and the whole RIDBC organisations would, have all been impacted by the criticism of the Bear campaign. This reflects negatively on them. They certainly did not deserve that.

I am conscious too that RIDBC offer some really good and innovative services. These services deserve praise. The criticism of the bear campaign also reflects on these services. For example, I know that RIDBC have been offering support to children who are deaf in remote areas by video conferencing for a number of years. It has taken other organisations a long time to understand the potential of using video conferencing to offer support. RIDBC were at the forefront of this type of service delivery. It saddens me that the campaign to remove the bear advertising, necessary as it was, has detracted from a lot of the good work that RIDBC do.

Many of us have been quick to praise RIDBC for their prompt response. There are others who are a little less forgiving. These people make some valid points. As the writer of the Bear article I want to celebrate the small victory of having the bear advertisements removed. But to do so would be remiss. It would be remiss to celebrate as it would be disrespectful to the many fine people that work at RIDBC. It is remiss mostly because there are many questions that remain unanswered.

For example on Facebook one person commented on Mr Rehn’s response, I’m not so sure this is a positive. This was a pro bono outdoor campaign worth $400,000 and this has probably been used up already, so I can’t really see where RIDBC’s CEO has done much at all…..”  This is a valid point because this campaign has been around since late May. For some reason the disability sector and deaf sector missed it. It was only the sharp eyes of one advocate, who noticed the poster on a bus shelter, that brought the issue of the bear campaign to our attention. Thank you Ricky.

The bottom line is that the bear had been around for some considerable time. I don’t know if it was successful in generating funds for RIDBC but I do know it would have been seen by many hundreds and thousands of commuters. It would have influenced or reinforced many of their negative perceptions in regard to disability. And $400 000? It could have been spent on something much more positive and valid than this.

It begs the question as to how this campaign was allowed to proceed without the relevant risk and impact assessment. There were many, myself included, who were willing to forgive and move on. But one frustrated commentator raised some  relevant points, “Oh I don’t believe this. What about responsibility? It was a horror ad. A bear with its ears cut off and it’s eyes cut out …. If you want change you need to be tougher about respect from people with a job to deliver that respect … I am not cynical or angry just shocked by incompetence , thoughtlessness. Some people are in the wrong job, the wrong area ..”  These may seem harsh words but they are valid. Simply put; how could the people responsible for this advertisement not see how it might be viewed given the core business of RIDBC? Surely their risk assessment of the advertisement should have identified all possible responses. Was the need to raise money more important than the image of people with disabilities? Did they not ask themselves these questions? If they did not, they should have.

Then there is the simple question of respect. Said another commentator of the CEO’s response, All he had to do was consult the Deaf community. Arrogance at it best. It sounds like he needs awareness training…. Someone who is representing one of the oldest charities in this country should be able to understand our culture.  I hope I’m wrong, but I’m sure he wouldn’t even know how to greet someone in Auslan or say good morning. All I want is respect for the culture I grew up with and know inside out…..  I hope the organisation will learn from this.”

It really is as simple as that. When you are dealing with the lives of people with a disability you have a responsibility to ask them how they would like to be portrayed. I understand they asked parents but how many people who are deaf, or blind for that matter, were asked what they thought of this bear? It’s such a simple thing to do. It is a simple common courtesy. If they had asked a good cross section of people with a disability what they thought of the campaign I am pretty sure the response would have been “NO WAY”

But it is wrong to put the blame solely on the shoulders of the CEO. I suspect Mr Rehn’s response was aimed at protecting his staff, Board and the advertising agency. In the end there are a host of people who are responsible for this Ad going out. Any review of the Ad and its failings needs to include all of them so that it never happens again. The fact that this Ad was allowed to happen at all indicates they are all in need of an urgent Awareness Boot Camp.

The time has come where we need to regulate disability advertising so that people with a disability are no longer portrayed in this negative fashion. There has been a suggestion that this advertisement, regardless of RIDBC apology, should be reported to the Advertising Standards Board. I absolutely think it should. It’s time for us all to get serious about the portrayal of people with a disability in the media. These negative stereotypes MUST be challenged.

For a really great example of positive advertising watch this video. A transcript of the video for people who are Deaf and hard of hearing has been posted below as it does not have captions

Background noise of busy office, phones ringing, cart wheels squeaking:

Man with Downs Syndrome: For you

Woman at computer: This is exactly what happened last time.

Man at the computer: I cant believe they are not running NT

Woman at tha Computer: I’m trying

Man with Downs Syndrome: Good morning

Woman at computer: Thank you

Man with Downs Syndrome: Ok

:Cart Wheels Squeak:

Woman at computer whispers: Can you believe he works here?

Blonde on Phone: Did you hear what he did last week OH MY GOD! Oh hang on he is coming

Man with Downs Syndrome: Hi

Blonde: Hi

Man with Downs Syndrome: You’ve got 2

Blonde: Thank you

Man with Downs Syndrome: Ok

: Men at water cooler laughs:

Man 1 : Hey look at him (laughs) that guys a freak

Man 2: Can you believe it he won a gold in the 100

Man1: legend


Man clapping: Good Man!


One thought on “Bittersweet

  1. It is a very good point – I’d love to know their process and whether DeafBlind, Deaf, and Blind people and parents of kids are involved in i in a meaningful way!

    I’m a bit in awe that taking that photo triggered all this off, too – in a good way 🙂 I wish I had the energy to go out again this week and see if the posters really have been removed.

    One thing I saw in comments on Facebook about this topic was one person who mentioned that in NZ you’re not allowed to use bald-headed children in a “pity” way in cancer fundraising. I have no idea how that sort of standard would be upheld, but it sounds like a very good model – we don’t want to be using people with disabilities as objects of pity at all. If it’s something that is actually do-able, that’s definitely a standard to strive for.

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