People with disabilities represent the most underemployed minority group in the United States. In an effort to raise public awareness about this disparity, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (DOL/ODEP) convened several leading business and disability organizations to create the Campaign for Disability Employment (CDE) – a collaborative effort that encourages employers and others to recognize the value and talent people with disabilities bring to America’s workplaces. Since its launch in 2009, the CDE has revolved around an integrated campaign called “What Can YOU Do?” and four public service announcements (PSAs) — “I Can,” “Because,” “Who I Am” and “Working Works” — that challenge common myths and misconceptions about the expectations and job skills of people with disabilities.
Due to its success managing other communications-oriented projects for ODEP, in 2009, Concepts was asked to assist West Virginia University’s Disability Policy Research Center and the Job Accommodation Network in managing the newly formed multi-organization collaborative, today known as the CDE. Early steps included working with members to develop messaging and devising strategies for its dissemination. The result was the “What Can YOU Do?” initiative, a full-fledged communications campaign centered around a television public service announcement (PSA).
Once it was determined that a PSA was the most effective way to reach the campaign’s numerous target audiences – including employers, people with disabilities, parents and educators – several creative concepts were brainstormed, illustrated in storyboard format and presented to CDE members, as well as tested in focus group settings. Based on feedback received during that process, the “I Can” PSA was scripted and moved to production. Casting sessions were held to identify seven people with disabilities – not actors – to participate in the filming. The finished PSA, produced in collaboration with Rafferty Weiss Media, offered open-captioned and audio-described versions and challenged viewers to rethink assumptions they might harbor about people with disabilities and employment.
Upon completion of the PSA, Concepts oversaw all aspects of its promotion and distribution to thousands of broadcast, cable and radio stations nationwide. The “I Can” PSA received several industry accolades and earned more than $20 million in donated media time during its first two years of circulation. Based on its success, in 2012, Concepts once again worked closely with the CDE to conceive and produce its next PSA, “Because,” which focuses on the importance of high expectations in helping young people with disabilities set and attain career goals, in alignment with ODEP’s youth policy initiatives. “Because” was distributed to television stations nationwide in January 2013.
Concepts also oversaw all aspects of the production and distribution of the “Who I Am” PSA. Launched in October 2014, this PSA reminds us that individuals with disabilities are the sum of their many life roles, which include working in jobs they love. The latest addition to the PSA series, “Working Works,” was written and produced by Concepts and launched in October 2018. The PSA’s four primary cast members include Major League Baseball great Cal Ripken, Jr. and three other individuals who worked with their employers and health care providers to make a plan to stay at or return to work following illness or injury.
The CDE and its PSA campaigns are designed to spread the message that people with disabilities can and do make important contributions to America’s businesses. They have the drive to succeed in employment, and the skills and talent they need to deliver value and results for their employers. Each PSA is accompanied by a discussion guide, a poster, biographies of the cast and a template letter that the public can use to contact their local TV station to request airtime for the PSA. In addition to the PSA campaigns, Concepts manages the CDE’s website, blog, social media platforms and outreach activities—all in efforts to spread the message that “at work, it’s what people can do that matters.”