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Performative representation: disability

A businessperson presents a project to a team in a modern office. One of the team is a man in a wheelchair.
Copyright Shutterstock

I had to write a quick blogpost here as I’m working on a project involving images and image research. As a DEI consultant, I look for positive and authentic representation. Have a look at the main image – it looks pretty OK for representation of disability, doesn’t it?

How about this image below?

A man standing and leaning against a glass door in an office holding a phone. It is the same man from the earlier image, but not in a wheelchair.
Copyright Shutterstock

What do you notice? It’s the same model as in the first image, but this time he’s standing up.

Look, here he is again:

A young business team celebrating a victory
Copyright Shutterstock

It’s a little odd to see him in a wheelchair one minute and then seemingly being non-disabled in another. OK, he may not need to use a wheelchair all the time, but this we do not know.

What about these images?

Do you notice the issue here?

It seems that all the photographer has done is to swap out one non-disabled man to present as a disabled man – performative.

Can I urge image researchers and photo libraries to research authentic representation. Shutterstock is easy as you can search for the same model – other photo libraries don’t seem to have this function, so it’s more difficult.

Please do consider using these stock photo libraries instead:

Disability images –

Disability Inclusive Stock Photography –

Affect the Verb –

Photoability –

Please do add any other disabled-inclusive stock image sites.

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