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July 16, 2014

Nordstrom ads feature models with disabilities

NEW YORK — It’s not easy to find models with disabilities in ads for the fashion and beauty industry — unless you look in the Nordstrom catalog.

The company has been using models with disabilities since 1997 and continues the tradition in its annual July catalog, which kicks off the upscale retailer’s largest event of the year with preview discounts of new fashions for fall.  

This summer’s Nordstrom Inc. catalog includes among others a woman in a wheelchair modeling boots and a man with a prosthetic leg modeling Nike running shoes.

Hiring professional models with disabilities has become so much a part of the Seattle-based company’s DNA that its regular customers may not even realize how unusual it is.

“Identifying companies that utilize models or actresses with disabilities has been like finding a needle in a haystack,” said Meg O’Connell, a partner at the consulting firm Global Disability Inclusion.

Nordstrom, she added, “is a leader in this space and has been a long-standing supporter of disability inclusion not only in their advertising but also in employment and accessibility in their stores.”

The clothing that Nordstrom models wear is not adapted in any way. The model wearing Nikes has one on his foot and the other on his prosthetic device. The model in the wheelchair has short spiky hair as part of the punk look of her outfit, which includes a dark leather jacket along with the featured sale item, short boots with a buckled strap.

Nordstrom spokeswoman Tara Darrow said using the models is “really about reflecting the customers and communities we serve. We serve diverse customers and it’s an opportunity for them to see themselves when they’re looking through the book or online. ... We don’t promote it or go out and talk about it. We just think they look great.”

O’Connell said that the advertising and retail industries may be at a “tipping point” in terms of including models with disabilities. She noted that H&M and Diesel have also recently featured models with disabilities, while Swiffer recently featured an amputee actor and a Duracell ad used a deaf football player.

O’Connell said people with disabilities represent a significant marketing opportunity, with $225 billion in discretionary spending, and “companies that understand this will have an advantage.”

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