A view from Dave Trott: Stepping up
A view from Dave Trott

Stepping up

In America there are about 25 million physically disabled people.

By 1990, they had decided that inequality made their disability even worse.

They wanted to be allowed to go on to buses, into shops and restaurants, cinemas, art galleries – they wanted access everywhere non-disabled people have it.

The Americans with Disabilities Act spent ages being debated without getting signed.

There was delay after delay.

Asking and pleading just didn’t seem to be working.

So the disabled people did what the very best advertising does.

Instead of simply talking about it, they used a demonstration.

Sixty people on crutches and in wheelchairs went to the Capitol Building in Washington.

That’s the seat of American government and it was built with all the grandeur and magnificence the US could muster – five flights of marble steps lead up to the magnificent, commanding entrance.

They came to the bottom of these steps, threw away their crutches and fell out of their wheelchairs, and began to crawl up the Capitol Building steps.

Demonstrating the only way they could access the building.

There are 79 hard, wide marble steps, and the sight of 60 disabled people dragging themselves up those steps couldn’t have been more contrasting, or more shaming, to the supposed grandeur of the building.

And what made it even more touching, as well as the 60 adults dragging their bodies up those steps, was an eight-year-old girl.

Jennifer Keelan-Chaffins has cerebral palsy, but she dropped from her wheelchair to the ground and began dragging herself up the stairs alongside the grown-ups.

As she remembered much later, when she asked for water dozens of reporters and cameramen offered her bottles of water.

The sight of disabled people being reduced to crawling up the magnificent steps of the government of the most powerful and prideful nation in the world was one thing.

But a little child scraping her hands and knees bloody on those hard marble steps was even more dramatic.

And to do it outside the very chamber where the Disabilities Act was being debated made it so much more poignant.

Without saying a word, it demonstrated what disabled Americans have to do to get access to the same privilege as ordinary citizens.

It demonstrated what their disability, and their government, had reduced them to.

It showed the power of a simple demonstration over non-stop demand and rhetoric.

Shortly after they dragged their bodies up those steps, the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law.

Now every bus, train, plane, restaurant and shop has to offer disabled access.

The physically disabled have equal access to jobs, eating, travelling and toilets.

Which is a great lesson about the way the best advertising works.

Not with claims and speeches, and promises, and demands, but with a simple, powerful demonstration of the facts.

Something that everyone can see for themselves, that suddenly brings the truth home.

People don’t respond well to lectures.

What works is the facts coming together in their own mind to form an opinion.

Dave Trott is the author of Creative Blindness and How to Cure It, Creative Mischief, Predatory Thinking and One Plus One Equals Three