A picture is worth a thousand words.
Photographs and images can be extremely effective to accompany information or educational text. They convey emotional content quickly, enhance the topic, issue or subject, and increase the likelihood of sharing that information across social media.
Relevant, quality imagery can communicate a strong positive impact about people with disability. They can just as easily communicate a negative connotation about people with disability promoting stereotypes that are disabling, demoralising or patronising and inspirational. Disability is multi-faceted with a wide range of experiences.
Imagery that normalises the presence of people with disability in everyday scenes will also suggest dignity, independence, mobility and inclusion of people with disability.
Real people, real faces
- Use photographs that demonstrate authentic contemporary, lifestyle, positive images of people, relations and life that are neutral and impartial (not for one demographic or population, at the exclusion of another). Search out images that are culturally appropriate and realistic which amplify the text and content.
- These should be natural, reflect real-world activities and settings, engaging and inviting and relatable.
Disability is a culture and identity, not a predicament.
- Gimmicky, cartoony, too illustrative or conceptual imagery can appear infantilising or tokenistic.
Look for these photographs or images
- Real people with disability doing realistic everyday tasks such as shopping, catching public transport or caring for children.
- People using wheelchairs that fit their body, or using mobility aids in everyday ordinary settings that look natural rather than posed.
- Models that portray diversity through a range of ethnicity, genders, culture, and body shape with disability who are interacting with models without disability on equal terms.
- Models and settings that depict people with disability on the same level as other models or actors in the environment.
- People with disability often don’t ‘look like’ they have disability, and some disability can be invisible or hidden. Using an ordinary person carrying out an ordinary activity when the model could be hearing impaired, living with a psychosocial disability or intellectual disability is completely acceptable.
Avoid these photographs or images
- People posing in ‘hospital-style’ or ‘hospital-grade’ wheelchairs holding items or doing tasks in an exaggerated style or awkward unrealistic manner.
- Models that portray people with disability as victims of tragedy or illness or images that present people with disability as an object of pity, poor, needy or helpless designed to elicit sympathy from the viewer.
- People posing in a ‘inspirational’, ‘heroic’ or ‘daring’ manner about to carry out a extreme motivational type of activity such abseiling or climbing a mountain peak. Equally so are the clinical institutional settings, tragic, forlorn facial expressions, depressing or dimly lit environments.
- Imagery that portrays a person with disability dependant on another person to do an ordinary activity they would otherwise be able to do independently such as a blind person being helped to stand from a chair by a person without disability.
Consider the language in captions. It is always good practice to use person-first terms such as ‘woman with guide dog’, ‘man using sign language’, or ‘person with diabetes testing blood glucose’.
- Avoid language such as ‘wheelchair bound’ or ‘sufferer’, ‘handicapped’, ‘invalid’, ‘afflicted’, ‘challenged or challenging’, ‘special needs child’ or other terms that objectify or dehumanise people with disability according to their impairment such as ‘woman in a wheelchair’ or ‘paraplegic’, or ‘deaf man’.
- Use ‘woman using wheelchair’, ‘person with disability pouring a coffee’, ‘man using cane to navigate a busy street’, or ‘child with disability climbing jungle gym’.
- Avoid referring to people without disability as ‘normal’.
- Avoid statements that suggest deficiency or overcoming inadequacy or lack.
- Australian Style Manual, Accessible and inclusive content
- Disability and the Media, United Nations
- “I’m not your inspiration, thank you very much”, TEDxSydney by Stella Young
The images accompanying this article come from Disabled And Here. Disabled And Here is a disability-led stock image and interview series celebrating disabled Black, Indigenous, people of color (BIPOC). The Disabled And Here collection is published under Creative Commons attribution licensing.
- Where do I find images and illustrations reflecting diversity?
- How to write an image description
- Making Advocacy Accessible Collection in the Commons Library