Angel Dixon is an activist and model that has featured in national television and print campaigns and showcased inclusive designs on international runways. Angel also identifies as a person with disability.
As advocacy manager for Starting With Julius and CEO of the Attitude Foundation, two organisations working toward a more inclusive world, Angel is committed to removing the barriers to participation that people with disability encounter, particularly in media.
Starting With Julius (SWJ) assists brands like Target and Kmart Australia authentically represent and incidentally include people with disability in their advertising and marketing material.
SWJ’s work is guided by the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and the CRPD definition of disability.
“Persons with disabilities include those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments, which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.” Angel said.
Angel personally subscribes to the Social Model of disability which says that ”we are disabled by the way society is built, not by our diagnosis”.
She is also active in the promotion of universal design (UD) and uses UD concepts as guiding principles for everything she works on.
Universal design, she says, is defined by The Centre for Universal Design at North Carolina State University as “the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialised design.
“It is routed in the built environment but it has applications in everything we [society] do.”
SWJ, said Angel, was born out of Catia Malaquias’ frustration of being forced to buy children’s clothes online from brands that didn’t recognise her child’s existence.
Catia reached out to one particular brand that immediately invited Julius, who has Down Syndrome to be part of a campaign. Julius went on to be in 7 campaigns for that brand at which time he grew out of the clothes.
On top of her work at SWJ, Angel is the CEO of the Attitude Foundation, an organisation foundered by ex Disability Discrimination Commissioner, Graeme Innes. The foundation was established to change attitudes toward people with disability through the promotion and development of media content that provides realistic portrayal of people with disability. In particular, through the creation of an authentic television documentary series.
”Media is one of our most powerful tools for changing attitudes. If we can expand our media landscape to include and authentically represent people with disability, I believe the barriers (physical and attitudinal) that people with disability face in everyday life will break down.”
In the last few years, Angel sees that through her work and the work of other organisations, activists and the community, there has been increased demand for people with disability to be represented alongside other diverse people in mainstream advertising and media.
But more needs to be done.
“The modelling and talent industry hasn’t quite caught up and there are virtually no people with disability on the books of any mainstream talent agencies globally,” said Angel.
“Of those people, a few are being put forward for mainstream jobs but there is no facilitation around participation, so the likelihood of successful participation is low and most people who are interested in being involved in the industry don’t bother.”
Angel said that there is also an issue of how that individual “will be portrayed in whatever media is being created”.
“Most of the time our media only portrays people with disability as one dimensional characters who are either “inspirational, victims or objects of pity”.
“This is scary for most people with disability, so again, they don’t bother entering the industry.”
Angel is working in many different ways to support talent agencies, casting agencies, writers, producers and directors on best practice for representing talent with disability so they can get more people on screens in an inclusive way.
So what’s next? At Starting With Julius, Angel is focusing on innovating casting processes to make room for people with disability, meaning reimagining the way an entire industry works. At the Attitude Foundation, she is working to get a TV show made!
Angel will be a guest speaker at Griffith University’s MATE Inaugural Conference in November, to find out more and to register to attend click here!