A picture can paint the wrong words

Shutterstock image of a young person being pushed in a hospital wheelchair. The occupant is obviously a model that doesn't look like they have a disability.Time to bring photographers along with the universal design movement together with those who choose stock photos.  For those who understand the issues with the picture shown, there is no need to explain. But there are many others who see two good looking young people, one in a wheelchair being pushed by the other. They are wearing bright colours and looking happy as they make their way through an empty shopping mall. For the uninitiated there are three key issues with these companion pictures.

  • First, it perpetuates the stereotype that wheelchair users must be helped by being pushed rather than mobilising independently. A person walking alongside would be better. 
  • Second, it is clear that both of them can walk as they change places with each other to be pushed in the chair. There are many wheelchair-users who could be models and wouldn’t need to be pushed.
  • Third, the type of wheelchair is usually found in a hospital setting. It is not one that a person would normally own let alone use it to go shopping. Wheelchair-user models would come with their own wheelchair.

Wheelchair users are not the only way to convey diversity or disability. The majority of disabilities are invisible, e.g. low vision, hearing loss, heart disease. So pictures of groups of people from all walks of life are much better. Too many of these pictures show a lone wheelchair user in places devoid of other humans. This is not real life.

Images are used for a reason – to convey a message. Let’s make sure they convey the right messages.