Images of Disability

I’ve been thinking about images of disability a lot lately. The upcoming Paralympics in Rio probably prompted it. Whilst “Superhuman” is a refreshing change from the stereotypes of “benefit scrounger” or “object of pity”, it’s an unrealistic image for most of us to live up to. All world class athletes, disabled or otherwise, are remarkable in that they have dedicated many years of training to reach their peak performance in their chosen sport. However, most disabled people are as unlikely to be a world class athlete as most non-disabled people are to be the next Usain Bolt.

It goes further than these stereotypes, ‘tho. At Evenbreak we are revamping the home page of our website (watch this space!) and I was looking for imagery to enhance the visual impact. I wanted a number of different images of ordinary disabled people doing various different jobs. How hard could it be?

Very hard, I discovered. I looked for images on various sites (proper stock image sites, as opposed to google) using search terms such as “disabled people at work” or “professional disabled people”. Knowing how diverse our candidates are in terms of skills, experience and impairments I was hopeful I might find some representative images. On reflection, of course, most impairments are not visible (chronic pain, hearing impairment, diabetes, mental health conditions, Autism to name but a few), but almost all of the images were of wheelchair users. And even more disappointingly, despite my specifying work in my search terms, more than half of the images were based in hospitals where the wheelchair user was being supported by a young, white, pretty female nurse. The term “disabled” is far too often conflated with “ill”. Sometimes there is a link, but to medicalise disabled people in this way is far from representing reality. Most disabled people I know rarely see their doctors. Apart from my decidedly dodgy spine, I’m a fit as a fiddle (she says, touching wood, just in case).

So come on, image makers and photographers – please recognise that disabled people aren’t divided into either superhuman world class athletes, or frail ailing people. We are far more diverse than that!

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