Icon Agency Opens New Production House With Auslan Studio: The Content Garden

Icon Agency Opens New Production House With Auslan Studio: The Content Garden
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When Ben Van Raay sits down in his editing chair, he is the same as every other film editor in the business.

“I love that I can be exactly who I am,” says Van Raay. “I can be creative and push the boundaries of what I can do as a person, without limitations.”

Van Raay, who is in a wheelchair, works with Wallara, a disability service provider. He has been working to build his career as a videographer and video editor since he took Wallara’s video editing course in 2014. 

But too often, his career growth is limited by an industry not designed to support his needs. He will be hired for a shoot only to find out the location or the studio is not wheelchair accessible, or it is in a location he can’t get to, or tables will be inappropriately positioned, or equipment will not be height adjustable. 

“Inclusion is much more than putting in ramps and having accessible toilets,” says Jay Pinkster, the Digital Communications Manager at Wallara.

“To be truly inclusive, businesses need to be flexible and innovative in the way they recruit and support people with disabilities.”

The benefits of diversity and inclusion in advertising and marketing are clear. According to a 2019 Google survey, 64 per cent of consumers were motivated to buy products after seeing an ad that they considered diverse or inclusive.

Beyond consumption, Microsoft released research that found that companies running inclusive ads are regarded as “more trustworthy” by 68 per cent of women and 60 per cent of men.

Many production companies have begun to build diversity and inclusion into their casting and creative processes and in-content representation – the content that audiences see – has improved. But creative diversity – the contributors or creators “behind the screen” – has lagged behind. 

“Research, time and time again, has proven that a genuine workplace culture of diversity and inclusion improves productivity, staff retention and job satisfaction,” said The LOTE Agency CEO, David Bartlett.

“I honestly believe there is a strong level of motivation within the advertising industry to improve cultural diversity in front of and behind the lens, however, a degree of anxiety or nervousness remains on how to actually make it happen.” 

That’s why when Icon Agency acquired its new creative production hub, The Content Garden, it worked with The LOTE Agency and Able Australia on how to create an inclusive and accessible space. 

Located within Richmond’s iconic Rosella Complex, The Content Garden is equipped as a fully agile Auslan studio, with specialised equipment to create video and audio content for deaf, blind and deaf/blind audiences; all held within a facility that welcomes those with impaired mobility.

“We know that diversity and inclusion in the production and creation of content is vital to ensuring that the content itself reflects the lived experiences of diverse audiences,” said Icon’s Group Managing Director, Joanne Painter. 

“We made a conscious effort to make our facilities inclusive but even then, there were aspects we missed,” added Painter.

It wasn’t until we spoke to Ben at Wallara that we realised there were elements we had missed, such as wheelchair accessible bathrooms. That’s the value of inclusion across the production process – it allows everyone to see the project from a different point of view.” 

“Creating a more accessible world is about taking a broader view of our community and spending the time to find out what will work best for everyone,” says Chandi Piefke, the National Director of Marketing and Engagement at Able Australia.

“The Content Garden in Richmond is a small example of what is possible. By making the space more accessible, a broader range of people and voices are also then able to join the group. This can only lead to richer content that will benefit us all.”

By working with colleagues at Able Australia and partners at The LOTE Agency, the Icon team learnt a lot about effective creative diversity policies through The Content Garden, including:

Consult, consult, consult.
The first thing any production team should do is talk to experts to understand the needs of a diverse and inclusive production company.

“People may not realise aspects of the process that are difficult for people with a disability,” says Meredith Prain of Able Australia, who has a vision impairment.

“For example, because I can only access part of the screen at once; attending large meetings with over 20 attendees, it is very hard to know who was speaking. It’s also very difficult to see shared documents in meetings, so I’d need to be prepared and have the doc opened on my desktop.”

Invest in adaptive technology.
Often teams will need to invest in adaptive technology and processes to support people with different needs. For Bella Firth, a creative designer at Wallara who has cerebral palsy, the team had to buy a custom-made mouse and keyboard that create a separate keyboard on the screen.

“I need to be able to use two hands on the mouse, so this mouse allows me to draw and type on the computer,” says Firth. 

Talk about diversity and inclusion.
It’s not enough to have the policies – to attract talent, you have to talk about creative diversity and what you are doing to support it. 

Think about how you hire.
Creating opportunities for work experience and internships can help people without prior experience learn and grow.

“Neurologically diverse people may need to transition into employment rather than having an abrupt start,” says Jay Pinkster.

“Creating work experience opportunities, traineeships and reduced hours initially can help to build more accessible pathways into employment.”

Representation means every sector of society.
While diversity of race, gender, sexuality and religion are vital, diversity also means including people with a range of disabilities, all age groups, and socio-economic diversity.

According to Facebook, people with disabilities were severely under-represented in online ads (1 per cent of the ads examined) as were members of the LGBTQ+ community (0.3 per cent). 

A 2021 study estimated that a person can encounter up to 10,000 ads per day. Each one of those ads not only sells a product or an idea, but it also can shape attitudes and change behaviours. 

Ads can make us see similarities instead of differences, ability instead of disability and opportunity instead of limitations. But we can only create those ads if the people behind them have the lived experience to tell real stories, in a real way.

Find out more about The Content Garden, Victoria’s newest for hire video production and studio complex, in the heart of Cremorne today.

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accessibility auslan content creation Diversity and inclusion icon agency LOTE Agency The Content Garden Wallara

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