If we are to help those with MS and move towards a world free of MS, we have to make more people aware of the challenges of living with MS, make MS better understood, and increase the support for MS.
It sounds simple and logical. Yet, MS remains an "invisible disease" to most, according to MS organizations and people with MS alike: their efforts to draw more attention to MS have not had the desired results.
Enter compassion fatigue: people and journalists alike are tired of caring. In a world of increasing information overload there are just too many good causes competing for our ever shorter attention spans: there are over 2,000 "awareness" days every year.
So, how do you get people to pay attention? Well-financed causes use celebrities or massive advertising budgets, options MS does not have.
We took a different approach: make learning about MS exciting and more memorable. That is how Fly for MS got born: we thought that the daring nature of a record-making marathon aboard a little plane would fuel people's imaginations and defeat compassion fatigue, thus getting them to learn about MS.
And the results surpassed even our own expectations: MS drew unprecedented attention, reaching new, larger audiences that has not previously been exposed to the cause.
In Chicago, the U.S. MS Society's national convention, the biggest event of the largest MS organization in the world, did not attract any TV coverage, while our stop there was covered by an Emmy award-wining journalist. TV clip and downtown Chicago by night »
The Irish MS organization tried many times to get MS on TV to increase awareness. Finally, with our arrival to Dublin, the "invisible disease" became visible. TV clip »
The UK MS Society, Europe's largest, was adamant the media has no time for MS. The TV reporter confirmed that, adding "but this is cool". TV clip and aerial views of London »
MS is not new, and is not one o the "trendy" causes. MS organizations feel lucky to get a single TV station to cover even their largest events.
But the creative, unconventional approach to raising awareness generated a level of excitement previously not associated with MS.
Fly for MS was able to draw more attention to MS not only because of its exciting approach, but also because most people resonate more from outside of the MS community. "We don't have MS, yet we care, so you should too" is much more compelling to the public and the media.
However, despite how much we know about MS, there is now way we could portray the challenges of living with, and fighting, this terrible disease like those that have it.
Most of us do not see people with MS. Once debilitated by the disease, many choose to withdraw from society. So most people are unaware of the wide diversity of those touched by MS
We wanted to show the wide range of people affected by MS, correct the misconception that it only affects older people, and let them talk about the disease, their needs, challenges and hopes.
Making more aware that MS exists and that it is cruel is a good start, but would not in itself have a long-term, lasting impact. The more we understand a cause, as well as why we need to help, the more likely it is we will act.
Therefore, Fly for MS used the attention drawn to MS to educate the public about the disease itself, as well as the issues faced by those living with it.