Episode 40 of the Influencer Marketing Lab podcast where Keely Cat-Wells CEO of C Talent talks about avoiding inspiration porn and gives tips to influencer marketers about how to make their influencer marketing truly inclusive and representative of disabled creators.

The Influencer Marketing Lab podcast is sponsored by Tagger the data-driven influencer marketing platform and social listening tool.

Show notes

Welcome to episode 40 of the Influencer Marketing Lab - a weekly podcast tracking the growth spurts and growing pains of influencer marketing.

This week I'm in conversation with Keely Cat-Wells -  entrepreneur and disability Activist. Keely is CEO of C Talent - an award-winning talent management company that represents high-profile Deaf and Disabled talent.

Keely  has been named as a:

  • Forbes 30 Under 30
  • Winner of the Diana Award
  • An AdWeek Young Influential
  • GBEA Young Entrepreneur of the Year
  • An Advisory Board Member to Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation. 

Podcast episode highlights

In this episode Keely

  • Looks at how influencer marketing currently represents the deaf and disabled community
  • Defines inspiration porn and explore why it's so problematic
  • Explains why positive representation is so important
  • Offers practical tips and advice for marketers to make their influencer marketing truly inclusive and representative of disabled creators

Useful links

Keely Cat-Wells biography

Keely Cat-Wells is an Entrepreneur and Disability Activist dedicated to making social, systemic, and economic change.

As the founder and CEO of C Talent Keely has been named a

  • Forbes 30 Under 30 Entertainment honouree, 
  • Diana Award winner,  
  • AdWeek Young Influential,
  • GBEA Young Entrepreneur of the Year

Additionally, Keely has been appointed as an Advisory Board Member to Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation.

Keely is a Forbes Contributor and has spoken as a Disability Subject Matter Expert for companies and organizations including: 

  • The LEGO Group, 
  • United Nations,
  • Google,
  • UCLA,
  • NBC,
  • Vidmob,
  • Advertising Week,
  • No Barriers USA,
  • Toronto International Film Festival,
  • Cannes Film Festival,
  • The Valuable 500,
  • Virgin Media’s Ultraviolet


Keely founded her first company at a young age during her time in hospital, which developed into C Talent. C Talent is an award-winning talent management company that represents high-profile Deaf and Disabled talent. C Talent’s goal is to change the way the world views and defines disability, utilizing the entertainment, advertising, and media industries’ massive reach and power. C Talent works to place disabled talent into all roles, not just disability-specific roles – normalizing disabled people being experts in subjects beyond disability. C Talent has placed talent in thousands of projects with companies and brands such as Savage X Fenty, Hulu, Tiffany & Co., About-Face, Disney, Google Pixel, Subaru, Nike and many more. C Talent is proud to represent a roster of artists who have a combined reach of over 50MM!

C Talent provides Disability & Access consulting, building resilient infrastructure, promoting inclusive and sustainable industrialization, and fostering innovation, by helping companies become accessible beyond compliance, some of our current and previous clients include; Virgin Media, Twitter, International Paralympic Committee, NBC, The LEGO Group, and GIPHY to name a few.

In 2021 C Talent was commissioned by Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity to create content for LIONS Decoded, a one-day broadcast of live and on demand content and insights, deconstructing the highest-ranked creative work in the world. C Talent received the 2021 Meaningful Business 100 Award, which recognizes outstanding business leaders, across the world, combining profit and purpose to help achieve the UN Global Goals.

C Talent is an honouree of the Disability Specialist Award by RIDI, an award that recognizes a key player in the wider recruitment industry who embodies the model of best practice in providing inclusive recruitment and employment services. After noticing the lack of access in the entertainment industry, Keely formed Zetta Studios which is set to be the world’s first-ever studio to be fully accessible, designed with disabled people in mind.

C Talent serves as a founding member of #WeThe15, a campaign being called sports most significant human rights movement in history – that aims to transform the lives of the one billion disabled people globally. Other founding members include; The International Paralympic Committee, United Nations, International Disability Alliance, Invictus Games, and Global Goals.

On the legislation side, Keely is working with Sara Hart Weir to eliminate section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, an 80+-year-old discriminatory statute that provides the foundation of a system that permits employers of disabled workers to file for certificates that allows them to pay disabled employees subminimum wage – even to this date. We believe there is no right or left with disability, only forward.

Transcript of conversation between Keely Cat-Wells and Scott Guthrie

Scott Guthrie  00:00

Hello, I'm Scott Guthrie and you're listening to Episode 40 of the influencer marketing lab. This week, I am in conversation with Keeley Kat wells, CEO of C talent, an award winning talent management company that represents high profile deaf and disabled talent.

In this episode, we look at how influencer marketing currently represents the deaf and disabled community. We define inspiration porn, and explore why it's so problematic. And Keely explains why positive representation is so important.

Keely ends the discussion by offering practical tips and advice for marketers to make their influencer marketing truly inclusive and representative of disabled creators.

This week on the show I am delighted to be joined by key the cat wells entrepreneur and disability activist Keely is CEO of C Talent, an award winning talent management company that represents high profile deaf and disabled talent.

Keely has been named as a Forbes 30 under 30. A winner of the Diana award, and Adweek young influential a GB e a Young Entrepreneur of the Year and advisory board member to Lady Gaga was Born This Way Foundation and the plaudits go on Keely full bio is available with the show notes accompanying this episode. But Keely, welcome to the influencer marketing lab.

Keely Cat-Wells  02:06

Thank you so much. I'm excited to be here.

Scott Guthrie  02:09

Well, we've had a couple of false starts all due to me and technology. So thank you very much for bearing with me. We met virtually last year, we were on a panel together with the drum talking about a similar topic area. And we've exchanged emails. So I'm really, really excited to have you on the show today. A first confession though I didn't know there was a distinction between disability and deafness. Why is there that distintion?

Keely Cat-Wells  02:35

I'm not deaf, so I can't speak on behalf of the deaf community but from what we've learnt. Oftentimes, deaf people do not associate themselves with the disability community. Oftentimes, sometimes Deaf can be seen as you know, it's a culture, it's a another language, and it can sometimes be kept separate. So that's why but you know, sometimes deaf people do also identify as being disabled and do identify with the disabled community. So we just make sure that we, we are inclusive of everyone and everyone's identities and preferences. So that's why we separate deaf and disabled, I think

Scott Guthrie  03:11

Immediately the separation of deaf and disability and the cultural consideration illustrates, if not the complexity, then the breadth of the subject. And we'll come on shortly to discuss how disability is portrayed in the media and in advertising. But before then, let's turn to C Talent. C Talent has two core offerings, you have your talent management, and you have your consulting arm of the business, which came first?

Keely Cat-Wells  03:41

Our representation side came first. And it really came out of my personal experiences. So before I solely worked behind the camera, I was in front of the camera as well. And I actually moved out to Hollywood. And one of the first things I did, I booked a job in front of the camera as an actor. And I ended up losing that job because of the ableism in Hollywood. And for those who don't know, ableism is the discrimination against disabled people.

And that's really what inspired the idea of see talent of just realising that this doesn't just happen to me, this is happening to so many people around the industry and beyond. And I wanted to see what I could do with my experience in the entertainment industry and just my sheer frustration and passion of like this has to change. This is unbelievable. So creating a company that works with deaf and disabled talent to break those barriers to bring down those frustrating, you know, barriers that this society have created for us and just that lack of education around disability and accessibility and represent people and get them on screen and create accessible workspaces create inclusive, you know, truly inclusive spaces I think We talk about inclusion. But oftentimes access gets left out of that. So yeah, so a long way of saying the representation side came first.

And then actually, that's how the consulting side was born. Because we realised, again, we were representing our talent, getting them in front of people getting them on projects, but a talent would come back to us and they'd say, you know, we had a great time on set, it was good, love the love the shoot. But once again, I had to get changed in a storage room because the trailer wasn't accessible for me. Or, once again, they didn't understand the nuances in the language of disability, they didn't use the right terms, and I felt discriminated against, but they didn't, they didn't know. So that's where our consulting side came in. And we were like, alright, we don't want to keep throwing our talent into these ablest situations, let's help companies both create more accessible and inclusive spaces, but also, let's help them actually tap into the market correctly.

Scott Guthrie  05:59

So two elements there. Clearly, there is behind the camera, and there's access requirements, and just whether it's a ramp for a wheelchair, or a changing room, and there is in front of the camera. So maybe the brands think they're doing a great job by including a disabled person or a disabled talent. But maybe they're being represented as a disabled talent rather than normalising the disability as just a person is that what you're aiming for with the consulting firm.

Keely Cat-Wells  06:30

Oftentimes, when you think of accessibility, people usually think of the ADA, which is the Americans Disabilities Act. And it's an amazing piece of legislation, which was passed about 30 years ago. And it's crucial legislation. And that piece is so so important, but it is not perfect.

And it fails to a compass, everyone's accessibility requirements. And they actually use the term reasonable accommodations, which we feel can be slightly damaging, as if you're accommodating someone, it kind of feels like you know, the nice thing to do the right thing to do.

But what we prefer to say is, let's get someone's access requirements met. So it's a requirement for this person to have audio description or for this person to, you know, for captions to be had on a video or for that ramp to be there or you know, all of those different things. So it's going beyond compliance. And not just in terms of language, but not just thinking that access is limited to a ramp, it's so much more than a ramp. It's so so much more than that. And we also want to help companies understand that accessibility isn't a problem to be solved. It's a creative opportunity, accessibility sparks innovation, we often forget that we wouldn't have texting we wouldn't have SMS texting. If it wasn't for the deaf community, we wouldn't have potato peelers. If it wasn't for people with arthritis, it's so easy to forget where so many of our tools that we use every day come from,

Scott Guthrie  08:07

we'll talk in a moment or two about the spending power of disabled households. But before we get to that, I want to focus on something that Dan Edge one of your consultants at see talent explains during an expert panel session I chaired at the influencer marketing show in London last year. He said that the media often depicts deaf and disabled as one of three stereotypes. They either villains, victims, or inspirations. Against that backdrop, are marketers doing a good enough job at representing disability?

Keely Cat-Wells  08:48

You know, I think there's been a great effort. And I think we are slowly but surely coming to a place where disability representation is becoming more frequent. I think we've made a few tiny steps in the right direction, but we've got a long, long way to go. And we can always do better. I think there's been a lot of tokenistic representation. There's been some landmark on screen representation, but you really dig into the representation within the company or you dig into the accessibility or that representation on screen was just very fleeting. It's not a long term commitment.

There's no actual commitments or disability is still not a part of the diversity policies or the the conversation within the within the company. So it's making sure that we make this systemic change from the ground up through every single level of that company. It's not just putting on someone who's disabled on that screen. It's making sure that you know, one in four people are disabled. So one in four people within that company are disabled and they're not less Sara Lee working in, you know, disability specific roles. It's normalising disabled people being experts in subjects beyond disability, not just including disabled people in those disability or diversity driven roles. And this is something we see a lot.

We have a lot of conversations with companies and marketers, and, you know, they're trying, they're trying hard, but they still don't quite get it. And they go, you know, this is great, your talent is incredible. And we'll reach out to you and we have something disability specific and we're like, no, no, no, no, no.

Reach out to us whenever you have a campaign because disabled people on just to be known for existence because of their disability where, you know, entrepreneurs with a mother's father's friends, colleagues, workers, you know, everything in between. So making sure that disability is, is included in everything. And as I say, one in four people are disabled. So getting that represented as crucial both in front and behind the camera,

Scott Guthrie  10:57

one in four. That's extraordinary, isn't it? It's a it's a powerful number and a powerful reminder of the size of the category. We've heard of the global movement, we the 15, aiming to transform the lives of the world's 1.2 billion people with disabilities who represent 15% of the global population. But in the UK, as you say the figures are higher. The most recent figures in the UK from the National Statistics shows that overall, the percentage of people who reported a disability has increased at 22%. And as you say, 24% of females reported a disability.

Scott Guthrie  13:41

You mentioned that marketers are trying hard. Why do you think they're trying hard? Do you think it is push or pull? Is it because the audience demand it or because they want to be better at their jobs?

Keely Cat-Wells  13:53

I think people are starting to realise that they have to reflect their customers. And I think we are slowly seeing because of social media. I think the amount of customers that are disabled, I think we've been the previous mediums that we used to see obviously with film and TV, and they weren't open and free to anyone, you had to be in a certain group of people to be able to be on the screen or be in the film. But now with social media, we kind of have this kind of, for lack of a better word, unfiltered approach to being able to be represented, because we can all have a voice and build an audience and have a say so I think because there's now so many amazing influences and people online and people on social media speaking up and getting voices heard.

We can see now that there are so many disabled people and we have to include them and I think marketers are still seeing that. I think they're trying but they're not always getting it right. There's a lack of data as well around disabled people. There's a lack of disabled people within the organisations. So there's still such a long way to go, but I think now at least marketers know that we exist disabled people exist. I think that's like the one step. We're there now. And now it's just about making sure that we exist in every part of everything that they do,

Scott Guthrie  15:15

or change initiatives to start with awareness building. So it sounds as though our industry is on the first rung of the ladder, at least. What you're describing is unconscious bias, isn't it? Absolutely. Our teams are comprised of people like us. So we often think the whole world is made of people like us and disability isn't proportionately represented, and say disabled talent isn't proportionally represented. I want to turn now to inspiration porn. I've heard the phrase use but can you explain the meaning of inspiration porn? And why it is so problematic?

Keely Cat-Wells  15:56

Yeah, absolutely. So the term was coined by disability activist Stella Young, who has sadly passed away. But she did an amazing TED talk that I recommend everyone listens to watches. She purposely use the term porn because it's off putting, and both sexual and inspiration porn are both used to the bait that objectifying the person, it's for the benefit of others, objectifying someone for the benefit of others. So inspiration porn basically means that people are inspired to see disabled people overcome challenges when they accomplish, you know, a tool or a feat, but oftentimes when it comes to disability, they see disability as the tool order, or the challenge. 

And disability is not something to be overcome. a disabled person going about their everyday life is not something to be applauded, because it spreads the message that we are inherently incapable of doing things that non disabled people do, that live with a disability is so hard that doing, you know, ordinary things is extraordinary, which is not true. So yes, of course, you can still be inspired by disabled people. But please make sure those disabled people are doing something actually inspiring. And as Stella Yung says, presume competence until shown otherwise. So for instance, a disabled person carrying shopping bags across the road is not inspiring, no disabled person, going to school with non disabled people is not inspiring. So just make sure that the disabled person is doing something genuinely inspirational. Thanks,

Scott Guthrie  17:37

Keely, I will include the link to her TED Talk, as part of the show notes. A bit of a fatuous question, but is to get you to answer the question rather than anything else. Why is positive representation so important?

Keely Cat-Wells  17:52

We're so influenced by what we see what we hear what we watch, and the media is being seen and heard every day by billions and billions of people. So if we misrepresent or do not represent disabled people at all, or misrepresent them in any way, or us in any way, then the world will see it and believe it, we have the power in the media to shift perspectives, to create jobs, to change laws, and so on. So we have to remember, we have that power. And it's not to be taken lightly

Scott Guthrie  18:22

advertising is more than a display a discipline to inform and engage. It's about storytelling, isn't it, and storytelling produces Emotion. Emotion evokes that memory. And it's memory that leads to action. So our storytelling becomes representative, just as you've said, Sorry, I'm not might be mansplaining there. But our storytelling becomes representative, not only of ourselves, but also the culture and the values of this moment in time. And if we misrepresent our audience, we risk alienating that audience and our brands will suffer as a consequence. So hopefully, we don't because the right thing to do is the moral thing to do. It's the ethical thing to do is the human thing to do. But if that doesn't float your boat, that it's the commercial thing to do, as well.

Keely Cat-Wells  19:03

Exactly. It's, people often do forget that it is a trillion dollar market, the disability market, it's such a big, vast opportunity that is so untouched. And I think it's very difficult nowadays to have a competitive advantage with anything because we're in such a saturated market everywhere we go. But disability honestly can be your competitive advantage. It's still so untapped.

Scott Guthrie  19:27

And that takes us back to another point made by Dan edge during the Influencer Marketing Show. And that point was about brand loyalty. He was saying that once disabled customers feel that your brand is for them. And they feel that your brand is accessible, and that they don't have to fight to use it. They will return time after time after time.

Keely Cat-Wells  19:48

Absolutely. We have been as a community we have been so oppressed for so long and we're so used to just not being included in things or things not to be accessible. So when we see a company making that commitment, taking the opportunity of diversity and disability with integrity, then we will latch on to that brand and we will want to stay with them. Because we trust them. That trust is so important.

Scott Guthrie  20:12

Right? I'm sold. So let's talk execution. How can brands be more inclusive in their representation of disability? In other words, how do we present people with disabilities in the advertising content in such a way that is inclusive, and that really represents the lived experience of people with disabilities? Well,

Keely Cat-Wells  20:33

firstly, it comes down to access in both terms of access to the work access to the jobs access to pay access to all of the different things that we historically just not had access to. And that starts with physically accessible locations, both digitally in this digital world that we live in, and also physically.

So going beyond compliance, hiring consultants to help you make sure that everything is accessible. It's the foundation and the fundamentals of getting disability, right, and being able to really tap into those markets that we've just mentioned. And then hiring disabled people in all roles, not just as I said earlier, not just disability specific roles, and being in non disabled people being allies. And asking those questions.

I think previously, people have been so scared to get things wrong, and so worried about saying the wrong thing that nothing gets out at all, which creates kind of more of an issue. And that creates more of a problem. So, you know, creating those spaces where people can ask the questions, but also making sure that those questions are being asked to specific disability consultants.

Because yes, of course, always ask the disabled person, you know, how would you prefer to be identified? What are your access requirements, and asking everyone what their access requirements are, and no matter if someone is visibly physically disabled it because they may have a hidden impairment, such as I do, putting all of that in place, and hitting that number of one in four, one in four people, within your organisation within your campaigns, within your marketing, are disabled. And again, when it comes to access, something that is such a small but huge thing that someone can do if you're listening to this, and you're like, 

What can I do right now to include disabled people write image descriptions on your social media posts, you have alt text, you have image descriptions to ask slightly different. And it's important to include both. So an image description is just like a brief description of what the image is a few lines to say what it is, and just putting that in your post can make a difference and can include the visually impaired audience, the blind audience, so yeah, I went slightly off topic, but hopefully that was slightly.

Scott Guthrie  22:58

Very helpful. And then possibly your answer bleeds into the next question, which is about practical tips. And I think you've covered a few of those. But are there any other practical tips and advice that you would give to marketers to make their influencer marketing truly inclusive and representative?

Keely Cat-Wells  23:15

Again, I would say, really work with consultants hire disability consultants who have that lived experience. And I'm not just saying that, because that's, you know, part of what we do, I'm saying it because it genuinely makes a difference. And it's such an important step to doing it the right way and really taking advantage of this but other tips, I mean, just look in untraditional places to find your talent. Disabled people don't usually get access to Option A or Option B, we take option C and that's why we call it C talent. But you know, we go in untraditional places, because the traditional route usually just doesn't work for us because of the social barriers that have been put up for us. So if you can't find the talent that you're looking for, go and look elsewhere, actively seek out disabled talent and talent from non traditional places.

Scott Guthrie  24:07

You have some pretty ambitious plans for the year see talent?

Keely Cat-Wells  24:12

Yes, I'm really excited. I mean, we've been growing so quick. Last year was incredible. And I think that is definitely testament to those disability activists and just those disabled people out there who have been doing this work for so long. This isn't a new movement by any means. We've just, I think got very lucky with our timing and people who have been doing the work I think it's finally paying off really well. So we're excited to be in a great position of building out our departments representing more talent, working with other companies and really expanding our services. So we're just continuously building and growing and it's it's incredibly exciting. When

Scott Guthrie  24:52

we spoke before Christmas, you had some some explosive growth rates that you are trying to achieve. Are you in terms of headcounts

Keely Cat-Wells  24:59

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, just within the past year we've gone from, because our first official year in business was last year, we went from just me and one other person to over 15 full time employees, which is, which is really cool in a very, very short amount of time, and continuing to grow and add people to our team, nearly our entire team has lived disability experience. So we're really practising what we preach with accessible workspaces and an inclusive and diverse team. And it's it's very exciting.

Scott Guthrie  25:31

I always ask this question clearly towards the end of the conversation. Influencer Marketing is fast paced. How do you keep up to speed with the industry? Are there any go to sources of information that you refer to?

Keely Cat-Wells  25:46

You know, I'm still learning as we go every single day? And I think, right, I think the best place where I personally learn about influence market marketing specifically is just from our influences. What are they experiencing? What are they finding something that is a such a huge topic, but something that I've been learning a lot about recently is the algorithms and actually how discriminatory some of these algorithms are, especially for disabled people.

There's been some things happen with one specific platform where there was a policy in place where they would ban or take down or restrict content that could be seen as attracting bullies.

So instead of actually taking down the content of bullies, they would take down the content that was created by people who may be more at risk of getting bullied, which, unfortunately, isn't it just, and unfortunately, a lot of those that they saw as being you know, quote, unquote, vulnerable was the disabled community, those with Down syndrome, those who talked about disability, those who are from the disability community. So it's been frustrating, and I've been learning a lot about that and finding different ways in which we may be able to combat that. Well. Clearly,

Scott Guthrie  26:55

we've covered a lot of terrain in today's conversation, and I'll be sure to include those links that we discussed in the show notes accompanying this podcast, just Google the influencer marketing lab for full details. I'll include links to the American Disability Act, Stella Young's TED talk, we the fifteens website, and the National Statistics disability prevalence by age group in the UK. There will also be a full transcripts accompanying this podcast as part of the show notes. This leaves me just to Thank you Kelly coat wells, CEO at sea talent for your time and for your insights today.

Keely Cat-Wells 27:33

Thank you so much. It's been a pleasure. I appreciate it.



Scott Guthrie is a professional adviser within the influencer marketing industry. He is an event speaker, university guest lecturer, media commentator on influencer marketing and active blogger. He works with brands, agencies and platforms to achieve meaningful results from influencer marketing. That tells you something about him but it's not giving you a lot of detail, is it? So, read more here.

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