Photo Collection Seeks to Offer More Authentic Disability Representation to Media Outlets

By | 2018-06-04T10:50:38+00:00 June 1st, 2018|
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Woman wearing high boots, sitting in manual wheelchair paints at an easel in a light-filled apartment

Getty Images, Oath and the National Disability Leadership Alliance have launched a new collection of images, The Disability Collection, which seeks to more accurately represent and break traditional media stereotypes of people with disabilities.

“The project invites photographers to portray disability as a natural part of someone’s identity, instead of portraying disability as something that needs to be ‘cured,’ ‘fixed’ or overcome,” said Oath, the parent company of Yahoo and Tumblr, in a press release announcing the collection.

Disability advocates have long been fighting to change this type of outdated representation, and were integral in developing the initial Disability Collection and the guidelines to ensure that it maintains accurate representation moving forward.

“Member organizations of the National Disability Leadership Alliance – and the disability community in general – have worked for decades to see ourselves accurately reflected in media. Despite some progress, often the media still gets important details wrong,” said James Weisman, CEO of United Spinal Association and member of the NDLA Steering Committee. “This landmark initiative — the first of its kind developed with the guidance of the disability community itself — signals a promising new way forward. Oath and Getty Images understand that media will only get real about disability when disabled people lead the way. NDLA is thrilled about the launch of the collaboration and its future growth.”

The initial collection features photos of people with disabilities in a variety of everyday situations, and the photos are framed to focus the viewers’ attention on facial expressions and human interaction rather than the accompanying accessories of disability like wheelchairs and prosthetics, or the limitations of disability – think a forlorn wheelchair user sitting in front of a set of stairs. Furthermore, the collection is focusing on the intersectionality of disability, intentionally including images that represent people across age, ethnic, socio-economic, gender, sexual orientation, religious and cultural lines.

The project was sparked by a huge disparity between the number of people with disabilities in the world and the number of photographs that media companies have available to represent them. While some 15-20 percent of the world’s population have a disability, Getty found that only 2 percent of stock photographs depicted disability. At the same time, their own data was showing a huge spike disability-related searches, with terms like “wheelchair access” and “disabled worker” jumping 357 percent and 254 percent respectively on GettyImages.com between 2016 and 2017.

With the tight budgets and time constraints of modern media, even when outlets are trying to tell stories that better reflect the reality of living with a disability, they are often limited to images that conform to traditional stereotypes of individuals with disabilities as either heroic or pitiable.

Rebecca Swift, Director of Visual Insights at Getty Images, says that is exactly what the Disability Collection is trying to remedy: “While we cannot change what people publish or click on overnight, we can provide better alternatives for those looking to create more authentic stories.”