We are seeing more people with disability in films, tv and stories. Both the presence of people with disability and images depicting disability are being integrated into computing. But are the processes for developing inclusive imagery also inclusive?
If the only images available to illustrate accessibility are pictures of wheelchair users, then it becomes difficult to get people to understand and acknowledge the huge range of unique user needs.
A short article by Emory James Edwards addresses some of the issues related to diversity and inclusion in computing. Designers regularly use personas to help them communicate with developers. They each know what the other is talking about. But these ‘design assets’ as they are called, have not included images of people with disability, non-western users, or older adults.
Although people with disability are getting more recognition, the images are still prone to stereotypes. With luck, as we see more images of people with disability we could see increased understanding of the need for accessible technology.
If people who are blind are only depicted as wearing sunglasses or using a guide dog, but never depicted as using a white cane or walking with a sighted guide, it makes invisible the variety of skills and preferences of people who are blind or have low vision
More images of disability is not enough – they could even reinforce stereotypes. It gives people the illusion of knowing what life is like with a disability.
Tips for inclusive image generation
Edwards explains six key points:
- Do not reinforce isolated, sad or pitiable stereotypes.
- Avoid being overly “sweet” or creating “inspiration porn”.
- Show the diversity of the the disability community. That includes gender and nationality.
- Consult with people with specific identities.
- Make a commitment to long-term engagement with people.
- Make inclusion the default position without resorting to tokenism.
The title of the article is, Putting the Disability in DEI Through Inclusive Imagery. Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is about changing the paradigm in computing and other fields. Technology is an essential part of modern life. The reference list at the end is also useful.
A picture can paint the wrong words
For those who understand the issues with the picture shown, there is no need to explain. But there are 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, 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.
- 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.
Let’s make sure images convey the right messages.