Illustration of 5 people. On the left stands a woman. Her left arm is shorter than her right arm. She wears a sleeveless top and beige pants. She has brown curly hair and has light brown skin. Next is a man, sitting in an electric wheelchair. He has short light brown hair and fair skin, wears a red shirt and tan chinos. In the middle stands a Caucasian man with fair hair, wearing a blue suit, white shirt and a tie. Second from right is another woman. She is short in stature with long brown hair, fair skin, wearing a white top and blue pants. Lastly, on the right a woman of South East Asian appearance. She has tattoos on her arms, has wavy dark hair, and is wearing a black tee shirt and jeans.

Embracing Diversity: Increasing Imagery of People with Disabilities in the World of Work

In today’s world of work, diversity and inclusion has certainly been elevated in many organisations as part of the discussion about employment best practice. One aspect however that often remains overlooked in this space is the portrayal of people with disabilities in business imagery. This neglect not only perpetuates ableist stereotypes of employees but also means organisations are missing out on connecting more meaningfully with this population.

The representation of people with disabilities in business imagery is not merely about checking a box for inclusivity. It’s about acknowledging, visually and descriptively, the talents, skills, and experiences that individuals with disabilities bring to the table. By showcasing diverse imagery that includes people with disabilities, businesses can take an important step towards fostering a culture of acceptance and empowerment while also attracting new, more diverse talent.

First and foremost, increasing the visibility of people with disabilities in business imagery sends a powerful message of inclusivity. It demonstrates a commitment to diversity beyond surface-level initiatives and shows that the employer values individuals of all abilities. This can have a profound impact on both internal and external perceptions of the business, fostering a more inclusive environment for employees and attracting customers who prioritize diversity.

Practical suggestions for more diverse imagery

People with disabilities encompass a wide spectrum of experiences, abilities, and challenges, and it’s essential to reflect this diversity in business imagery. One thing to consider for example is expanding the representation of disabilities beyond individuals in wheelchairs, which is often a go-to image. Here’s a deeper dive into the variety of disabilities that should be considered:

Deaf and Hard of Hearing: Individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing face unique challenges in communication and accessibility. Including imagery that features sign language interpretation, assistive listening devices, and deaf-friendly workplace environments helps create a more inclusive workplace for individuals with hearing impairments.

Visual Impairments: People who are blind or have low vision rely on various assistive technologies and accommodations to navigate their surroundings. Workplace imagery can depict inclusive practices such as braille signage, screen readers, and accessible digital interfaces to ensure equal access to information and resources for individuals with visual impairments.

Neurodiversity: Neurodivergent individuals, such as those with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or Tourette syndrome, bring unique perspectives and strengths to the workplace. Representing neurodiversity in workplace imagery can help challenge stereotypes and highlight the valuable contributions of individuals with different cognitive processing styles and communication preferences. Consider depictions of neurodivergent individuals utilizing personalised accommodations and assistive technologies that support their work, such as noise-cancelling headphones, visual schedules, or specialised software.

Mobility Disabilities: While wheelchairs are a common symbol of mobility disabilities, it’s essential to recognize that not all mobility impairments require the use of a wheelchair. Some individuals may use mobility aids such as canes, walkers, or prosthetic devices. Additionally, conditions such as muscular dystrophy or cerebral palsy may affect mobility without necessitating the use of a wheelchair. Including a diverse range of mobility aids and accommodations in business imagery reflects the varied experiences of individuals with mobility disabilities.

Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities: People with intellectual or developmental disabilities may face barriers in the workplace related to communication, learning, and social interactions. Business imagery can depict inclusive practices such as personalized adjustments, mentorship programs, and supportive work environments that enable individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities to thrive in their careers.

Chronic Health Conditions: Chronic health conditions such as diabetes, lupus, or multiple sclerosis can impact individuals’ daily lives and work routines. Including imagery that portrays individuals managing their health conditions while pursuing their professional goals promotes understanding and empathy in the workplace.

Invisible Disabilities: Many disabilities are not immediately apparent to others. These can include chronic pain conditions, autoimmune disorders, mental health conditions, and cognitive disabilities such as dyslexia or ADHD. While these disabilities may not be visible, they significantly impact individuals’ lives and their experiences in the workplace. Representing these disabilities in business imagery helps raise awareness and reduce stigma surrounding invisible disabilities. Consider how you can capture moments of self-care and coping strategies that individuals with invisible disabilities may employ in the workplace. This could include images of mindfulness exercises, stretching or movement breaks, use of a quiet rest space, or individuals using stress-relief tools such as fidget toys or stress balls.

Thoughts about Art and Photography of People with Disability at Work

I know from personal experience designing my company website that sourcing existing stock imagery which portrays people with disability in the workplace is challenging. This is especially the case when considering imagery beyond that depicting wheelchair users. There’s unquestionably a case to actively demand more of our marketing departments, marketing agencies and content decision makers in this space. In meantime, employers might have to be creative and innovative to bridge the gap in their own way.

AI image creation tools have the potential to play a part, although in my experience the current AI does struggle to depict most visible disabilities accurately and consistently. Professionals in AI graphic design and tools like Photoshop would offer more accurate advice on the viability of this type of content creation.

If you are a user of illustrations / graphic art, perhaps commission some images. I found this to be a reasonably affordable option and is what I did to create an initial batch of diverse characters for my website. This followed a largely fruitless search for stock images and vectors which portrayed a diverse range of visible and invisible disabilities. One I selected an artist I was able to brief them on specific attributes of each character, and the collection is scalable using the same artist when I decide to add to it. (As soon as the work was completed, I had a list in my head of new, different characters I wanted to create!). Top brands like LinkedIn and Google use illustrated characters in their own style so there’s plenty of evidence to support this approach.

If your organisation’s brand imagery however is more photo-centric, graphic artwork might not be appropriate. To maintain consistency with existing imagery, larger organisations should consider adding photos of people with disability to their library. If this can’t be done though existing stocks, perhaps invest in commissioning a photo shoot. In Australia there are several modelling agencies who can provide models with different abilities and appearances for such a project. Or perhaps there are existing staff who are suitable and interested.

Inclusive Imagery Has Benefits for All

However it is created and shared, diverse imagery benefits not only those directly represented but also society as a whole. By showcasing individuals with disabilities in various professional settings, businesses and organisations challenge societal norms and break down stereotypes surrounding disability. This can lead to greater acceptance and understanding, ultimately contributing to a more inclusive society where everyone feels valued and respected.

In conclusion, increasing the imagery of people with disabilities in the world of work is not just a matter of representation; I believe it’s a fundamental step towards building a more inclusive and equitable society. By embracing diversity in all its forms, workplaces can not only attract customers and drive financial success but also open the door to more diverse talent and fostering a culture of acceptance and innovation.

I hope this inspires you to discuss the importance of inclusive imagery within your workplace and take meaningful action to ensure that everyone feels seen, heard, and valued in the content your organisation creates.

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