Inclusive imagery and icons

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?

Circular graphic showing many different icons related to disability.

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.

A blind man and his guide dog walk through a shopping mall. Inclusive imagery.

If people who are blind are only ever depicted as wearing sunglasses or using a guide dog but never depicted as using a white cane or walking with a sighted guide, then it makes invisible the variety of skills and preferences of people who are blind.

More images of disability is not enough – they could even reinforce stereotypes. It gives people the illusion of knowing what life with a disability is like.

Tips for inclusive image generation

Edwards explains six key points:

  1. Do not reinforce isolated, sad or pitiable stereotypes.
  2. Avoid being overly “sweet” or creating “inspiration porn”.
  3. Show the diversity of the the disability community. That includes gender and nationality.
  4. Consult with people with specific identities.
  5. Make a commitment to long-term engagement with people.
  6. 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.