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Images, images everywhere

A black woman with grey hair and glasses wears a blue top. She is smiling at the camera and is resting her cheek on her hand. Behind her are multicoloured dolls on shelves.
Image by Vladimir Soares on Unsplash

I’d intended to write this blog post today, but I’ve also been inspired by two other blog posts that I’ve just read. Liz Marqueiro’s new blog (and website) is already wonderful and it’s only two posts in. This one on assumptions when looking at pictures is excellent. Secondly, Tyson Seburn’s post for ELTABB on queering ELT is definitely worth a read. You may also want to check out Tyson’s 4CinELT work too.

So, onto what I was going to write about. I’ve been approached by a packager to do some work on tests for a publisher. This is nothing new, this is what I do – and don’t go guessing who either the packager or the publisher is, because I’m not going to say – because professionalism.

I’d been given access to some of the materials (ie student books) upon which the tests were probably going to be based. So I’m looking through and I’m thinking that something may be a problem, but perhaps I’ll ignore it for now. Until I saw another example, and another. I was only going to have a brief flick through and then DEI hits you. From then on, I could only look with my DEI hat on.

A woman with glasses sits on a light blue sofa with five toddlers around her. It seems there are three girls and two boys. It's possible that she is the children's mother, but it's also possible that she's not.
Image by krakenimages on Unsplash

Now, this is just an example. The above image is lovely. There’s nothing wrong with it. However, if you look at images in the context of an ELT book, you may start to see a pattern. And the pattern that I saw was that there was a propensity to have images like this – rather whitewashed. This does not mean to say that there were only white faces in the book. I don’t think I recall seeing a group image which didn’t include white faces. I mean, something like the below could be amazing (and just LOOK at their faces!).

Three black children sitting in a paddling pool, splashing and enjoying themselves.
Image by Peter Idowu on Unsplash

Although I can’t speak from lived experience of racism, I can speak up if I see something that can be improved upon in the ELT world. As I’ve said before, we produce materials for a wide range of students and teachers, so why can’t we represent them properly in our materials?

As well as looking through the images, I noticed that the names given to the majority of characters were mostly Western (no offence to anyone, but names such as ‘Derek’, ‘Tony’ and ‘Mary’ are all well and good, but where’s the range?).

I saw NO representation of LGBTQ+ or genderfluid people.

I saw NO representation of anyone other than slim.

I saw NO representation of any with a disability, hidden or otherwise.

I saw ONE positive representation of the older generation.

If we don’t start changing things now, when will things start to change? And who better to do it than us?

Here are the links to the image libraries I discuss (only 1 is paid for):

Ageing Better

Disability Images

Gender Spectrum



I can only echo what both Liz and Tyson say in their respective posts. Pay particular attention to Tyson’s Inclusion 101 – I’m not going to repeat it here – you need to visit the post – and Liz’s!

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