Nearly one in five people have a disability, but just 2% of publicly available imagery depicts their lives. The photo company, alongside Oath and the National Disability Leadership Alliance, is working to change that.
In the stock photo world, images of people with disabilities tend to cluster at two poles. “They’re either depicted as superhuman or super pathetic,” says Rebecca Swift, Getty Images’ director of visual insights. “There doesn’t seem to be that broad range that you get with able-bodied people.”
Getty has seen searched for disability-related images spike in the past year–“wheelchair access” searches were up 371% from 2016 to 2017, and autism-related searches climbed 434%–and the issue of representation became impossible to ignore.
That also became clear to Oath, the parent company of Yahoo and Tumblr, as they were working to set up a website highlighting their work around accessibility in tech and having difficulty finding representative images. So the company, with consult from the National Disability Leadership Alliance, tapped Getty to help change the current representation paradigm from the inside out. Launched May 17, The Disability Collection, a new subcategory of Getty images, will feature people with disabilities in everyday settings.
What you notice first are people’s faces. In contrast to those common images that focus on a person’s hands gripping a wheelchair, or frame a blind person before a window to show what they can’t see–or depict the blur of a prosthetic leg as it strikes a track–the images in the new Getty collection focus on human interaction and people’s facial expressions.
Of course, there are challenges to capturing a range of disabilities. Visual media gravitates toward visual cues, but not all disabilities are necessarily visible. “That’s why the wheelchair tends to be the icon of disability,” Swift says. “This project for us as a business is about getting it all down and saying: Don’t just focus on wheelchairs. Think about the entire range, and think about how people with disabilities want to be depicted.”
For Getty, that meant building out a set of guidelines for photographers in their network to follow. They emphasize focusing on mundane moments from everyday–texting, taking selfies, grocery shopping. A lot of the guidelines come from focus groups with disability organizations that Oath hosted and shared with Getty. “We’ve taken input from a host of advocacy groups about how people in their communities want to be depicted,” Swift says.
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