By Mark E. Smith
What ever happened to the Internet as the great equalizer, where our disabilities weren’t supposed to matter? How is it now that seemingly everywhere I surf on the web, so-called disability-related banner ads are plastered on my screen, illustrating that someone somewhere has me clearly tagged as a web surfer who has a disability?
My brother-in-law is a computer geek by profession, so he clears my cookies and caches, and all of the other cyber stuff floating around in my machine that can splatter my Dell’s DNA on the Internet. Still, when I log on to sites like Google or MySpace, disability ads blaze across my screen (how is it that the MySpace staff can’t tell a 41-year-old perverted predator from a 14-year-old Hannah Montana fan, but they know instantly that I have a disability the minute that I log on?).
One theory for my getting pegged as a wheelchair user online is that because I visit my own site, WheelchairJunkie.com, that other sites that I visit simply see ”wheelchair” as a popular term in my browser, and cater ads to me accordingly.
Nevertheless, what amuses me is that the so-called disability ads steered toward me as a demographic are always totally wrong. I often get an ad pushed at me for an adjustable bed, with a 70-year-old lady propped up with a fried chicken TV dinner on her lap. Show me a 25-year-old blond, in a bikini, on a water bed decked in silk sheets, and then I might click – but, show me 70-year-olds eating fried chicken in bed, and I’m clicking the other direction in a hurry.
My favorite disability-related ad is one I call “Gangster Guy,” which pops up every time I visit Fox News (which I guess I deserve for visiting Fox News!). I’m so distracted by Gangster Guy’s ridiculous nature that I don’t even know what he’s advertising, but if you’ve seen him, you know who I’m referring to: He’s a thugged-out gangster-looking dude in a wheelchair, complete with baggy Sean John jeans and a Gucci hat swiveled to the side like he just rolled out of an inner-city rehab, gunshot wound and all. Yet, in all seriousness, what disturbs me about the ad is that I’ve been to the country’s inner-city rehab hospitals, where the vast majority of in-patients are gunshot victims who look just like the dude in the ad, many shot as a result of gang affiliations, where they’re not allowed to be discharged in red or blue wheelchairs out of fear that such gang colors will simply get them shot again. So, as charming as a hip-hop disability-related ad may seem, clearly the advertiser has never been to an inner-city rehab to fully understand the demographic portrayed by Gangster Guy.
The fact is, I’m a 36-year-old dad, working a white-collar job by day and pontificating as a writer by night. I don’t have anything in common with old ladies eating fried chicken in adjustable beds or gangsters wearing unlaced Adidas – and I certainly don’t click on such ads.
Nevertheless, there’s still hope for me as a revenue-generating ad clicker online. If the advertisers stop stereotyping me as a surfer with a disability, and slip content on my screen that might tie into my true demographic – men’s business attire, parenting, reading, minivans, bikini models on water beds – then they might sucker me in after all.