We all know that representation of people with disability in public domains is vital to fostering a sense of inclusion and challenging common stereotypes. People with disability rarely see themselves in mainstream media, but they are constantly bombarded with images of disability through the pamphlets and websites of our sector. These are the images that will either foster a sense of belonging or exclusion. As such, we cannot afford to fail to properly consider what messages our images are promoting and whether this is how people with disability would themselves like to be viewed.
At DSC, we have been grappling with this issue for a long time. We want to use images on our website that communicate the broadness of the disability community- a community that is made up of millions of people, not impairments. But we’ve always struggled to find designers who get it, who won’t just come back to us with images of hospital wheelchairs in empty hallways and accessible toilet signs.
Many organisations seem to struggle with an imaginary tension between how people with disabilities would like to be viewed, and how the organisation wants to be viewed by its donors. While there are few people with disability who want to be seen as a charity case, many providers appear to want to be perceived as a charity in the most traditional, disempowering sense of the word. There is a huge irony in the website of an organisation where the text claims to see past the disability while images do nothing but depict disability. What nobody would dare to say in words is being screamed loudly in pictures.
How do your photos stack up?
Ask your self some of the questions below about the images your organisation publishes:
- If you were the person pictured, would you share the photo on your social media accounts?
- When Support Workers are pictured, is there an unambiguous support giver / support receiver dynamic or is the relationship more balanced? What kind of power dynamics might be interpreted from your images? Who is the “hero” in the image?
- Are the Participants pictured only those with visible disabilities? How does this relate to the Participants you actually support?
- Did you get informed consent from the Participant? Signing a quick consent form is not enough. If the Participant does not regularly use the Internet themselves, then they might not understand the risks involved. Before they can give informed consent, Participants need to be aware that an image on the Internet has the potential to be viewed by thousands of people and shared widely.
- Is the Participant giving consent because they want their image to be shared, or because they fear repercussions or want to make you happy?
- What messages are you included next to photo of the Participant? By including their image near a message, you are implying that they have endorsed that message.
- Do your pictures depict the act of giving support or images related to the goal the person is reaching through the support?
- Are there any straight up bad photos? Out of focus, caught at the wrong moment or just plain uninteresting?
- Is there a reasonably diverse mix of people pictured?
- Do the people in pictures appear to be connecting with those around them? Particularly for sections about community access or inclusion, are people engaging with others (who don’t appear to be paid)?
- Are all your images created by people without disability?
Most people with disability, donors and service providers want the same thing- the proper inclusion of people with disability into mainstream society. But we have used the same types of images for so long that it has become hard to break the habit. The images you use as an organisation should reflect your values, they should tell Participants what they can expect if they work with you. In the end, if our sector fails to properly represent people with disability, how can we expect anyone else to do any better?
Image: Not Titled by Eden Menta, 2016, collage and gouache on paper, 28.5 x 38 cm, courtesy of Arts Project Australia
At DSC, we’ve been spending some time thinking about how we can improve our answer to that last question. So we’ve partnered with Arts Project Australia to licence images from their extensive collection of works. You might have noticed some of these fantastic images on our update Training page and we are continuing to incorporate more throughout our website. You can read more about their image licensing program here or have a peek at those we’ve featured so far here.