Marketers need to authentically visualise people with disabilities

Time for more diversity in photography, writes iStock and Getty Images head of creative Insights APAC, Kate Rourke.

Wheelchair tennis champion Dylan Alcott became the first person with a disability to be named Australian of the Year. In his acceptance speech, Dylan discussed how watching past Paralympic heroes on TV drove him to pursue a career in sport. This insight from one of our sporting greats highlights how authentic visual content has the power to shape and break stereotypes, and begs the question: why don’t we see more of it?

Disability is intersectional – it’s important for businesses to intentionally include the diverse narratives that make up everyday life, across age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, socioeconomic status, religion and cultural lines.

Picture: Getty Images

To give an example, lingerie brand Savage x Fenty has built its brand ethos from a foundation of inclusivity. The lingerie collection itself features bras in vast ranging sizes, their fashion shows include models of different ethnicities, genders, ages and body types, and their campaigns feature models with disability. Through these inclusive visual practises, Rihanna’s label reflects a more authentic and wider spectrum of the human experience.

Images and videos have the power to shape ideas, alter perceptions, and build community. As brands, organisations and marketing leaders, it’s time we applied this philosophy when selecting our own visuals. Ask yourself, does this image show the whole range of life experiences that a person with disabilities may have? Am I representing people with disabilities alongside other intersections of their identities, for example, race/ethnicity, gender identity or expression, and age?

The key to authentic representation: Real people

Historically, and still now, we see across media and advertising depictions of disability being portrayed by non-disabled talent. The good intentions are there, however, these stories end up representing nothing more than a stereotypical view of just the disability itself.

Alternatively, if businesses are looking to create visual content, work very closely with the local disability community or a disability organisation. Listen to stories, learn about the experience of living with a disability and offer a platform to show and speak to their lived experiences.

Take a look at Spinal Life Australia’s recent TV ad campaign ‘Take Life Back’ as an example. This non-for-profit engaged their own disabled staff and community members to gain a true understanding of their lived experiences. By doing this, it ensured the stories and people featured in their ad were captured in the most authentic way.

By using authentic visual content of people living with disabilities, you allow the individuals themselves to help shape the way they want to be represented, which in turn can change how people with disabilities are seen.

Picture: iStock/SolStock

The narrative of “overcoming” disability

Visuals traditionally used in the media reflect “heroic” concepts or suggest disability is something that needs to be “cured,” “fixed”. Instead of viewing disability as a burden that needs to be overcome, it’s important to focus on the everyday moments people who are living with disabilities have and embrace and celebrate it as a part of our everyday lives.

Two Australian retailers, Target and Kmart, are continuing to be inclusive and thoughtful in their advertising with their recent catalogues featuring children wearing hearing aids and ankle-foot orthoses while modelling a range of products. These campaigns have also been very well received by disability and diversity advocates. These are great examples of understanding the social impact and importance of adopting inclusive and authentic advertising.

People want to see inclusive stories, and they want media and advertising to accurately capture the  world around them — from lifestyle, and culture to appearance. By selecting authentic images and videos, brands and businesses have the opportunity to shift public perceptions of people with disability and forge valuable connections with consumers looking to use their spending power to support businesses with whom they feel value-aligned.

Kate Rourke is the head of creative insights APAC at iStock and Getty Images.


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