Award to Honor TV Commercial Featuring Most Authentic Depictions of People With Disabilities

American Airlines and the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) have announced the creation of the "Altitude Award" honoring the best U.S. television commercials featuring authentic depictions of people with disabilities.

"Many people get their information about disability from the media, including television advertising. AAPD is delighted to be partnering with American Airlines to lift up the commercials that tell our story in a way that helps to change attitudes and increase societal recognition of disability as a natural part of the human experience," said Andrew Imparato, President and CEO of the AAPD, in a recent press release.

Submission rules state that entries should be "innovative, original television commercials that portray people with disabilities in a positive and progressive light," and must be submitted online at by the producing agency or company. Each commercial will be evaluated in Dallas, Texas by a panel of judges. Five finalists will be selected for public voting.

The finalist with the most votes will receive the Altitude Award, along with free advertising onboard American Airlines planes. The winning ad will be announced in November 2009.

Numerous disability organizations have denounced the use of actors and models without disabilities to portray people with disabilities in television and print ads. Many within the disability community have expressed concern over negative depictions of people with disabilities in mainstream media.

The 2005 documentary Murderball -- which gave the public its first genuine look at the lives of quadriplegic athletes who play wheelchair rugby -- was instrumental in changing many negative perceptions of people with disabilities, especially those living with spinal cord injuries that use wheelchairs.

There have also been more positive portrayals of people with disabilities in recent television commercials. In 2008, PepsiCo Inc. produced "Bob's House", a 60-second silent television commercial aired during the Super Bowl that was a takeoff on a popular joke in the deaf community starring two deaf actors. The actors/employees communicate using sign language. Viewers followed the story line through captions.