The Global Spread of This Exclusion CrisisGlancing at these figures, you may assume it’s countries with lower economic status and reduced human rights that are guilty of this online prejudice against the disabled. However, the spread of the results tells a different story. No pattern exists that determines why the representation of the disabled is globally so low.
Those who do boast some inclusion include:
- Superpowers such as Russia and the USA
- South American countries: Chile, Brazil, and Argentina
- Japan, Myanmar, India, Malaysia, and Hong Kong in Asia
- Canada and Australia.
Metrics VS MoralityAfter establishing the reality of this problem, the next step is that we must ask ‘why?’ Why is this clear exclusion of a vast segment of society occurring? Are governments acting out of sheer prejudice, or is there a more nuanced explanation? The answer may lie in marketing. State-run websites – like any websites – are powered by metrics. Webmasters tirelessly review stats to ensure their domain is reaching as many people as possible. Herein lies the potential problem when it comes to representation.
Reason #1: Catering to the MajorityIt’s true that most countries have what can be described as a ‘social norm’ – a stereotyped idea of how the average citizen looks. When creating content that aims to resonate with a wide audience, it’s sensible to aim for this social majority. Whether this refers to race, hair color, size or – as in this case – abilities and disabilities, it’s a common problem that can quickly isolate those in minority groups.
Reason #2: Fewer ConversionsSomewhat similarly, disabled individuals could be left out of website photos thanks to the domain review process. If government organizations perform A/B tests on their site, it may be the case that images of disabled individuals encourage fewer conversions and, therefore, reduce the perceived success of the web page. However, local authorities have a responsibility to their citizens. Eradicating representation for a large chunk of society is an inexcusable trade for improved website metrics.
Reason #3: Supply & DemandGovernments globally have a responsibility to affect the public narrative. Arguing that there is no demand for better representation in images is superfluous, as it’s these decisions that dictate what society finds acceptable. Normalizing the use of diverse photographs, including individuals from all walks of life, is the only way to create an expectation for inclusion. Right now, we are so used to seeing a narrow representation on state websites that users aren’t even aware of the problem. The aim should be to create a demand for equal representation, not to bend to the systemic prejudices already in place. Read here how to make your website more disability-friendly
The Role of Stock Photo WebsitesWhile governments have a responsibility to vet their websites for this problem properly, the fault doesn’t lie entirely with them. Most photos online come from stock photo sites such as Shutterstock. These domains offer royalty-free images that companies can use without fear of copyright infringement. The search features on these sites unintentionally dictate the aesthetics of most of the web. If pictures of disabled people don’t exist or aren’t tagged under the right keywords, then content creators won’t use them on their web pages. To test this theory, we searched a variety of different keywords – including ‘happy person,’ ‘person smiling,’ and ‘happy face.’ None of these popular tags featured photos of disabled individuals. Despite scrolling through numerous pages, we were unable to unearth any examples. If you look at these stock photos, an idea emerges – only able-bodied people can be happy, and there is no such thing as a “happy disabled person.” However, a quick search of ‘person in wheelchair’ revealed that plenty of images of happy disabled people do exist – so what’s the problem? A quick review of the tags along the bottom quickly highlights the issue. Despite the fact this woman is happy and smiling, the keywords linked to the photo revolve solely around her disability and age. Because of this, the picture won’t ever show up in general searches and is unlikely to be used on non-medical web pages. She only exists as a medical condition. She’s only an older, disabled woman…an invalid even according to these tags! To further flesh this out, we wanted to do a test. We took eight popular stock photo sites and typed in “happy people.” We wanted to see how long it took for us to get to a picture of a happy disabled person. * Please note, if nothing was found past page 5, we stopped looking. No one really looks past page 5.
- Shutterstock: No
- Deposit Photos: No
- Stock Unlimited: No
- iStock: pg. 5 (1 image)
- Adobe Stock: No
- Big Stock: No
- Pexels: No
- Getty: No
Government Websites Have a Responsibility to Promote Inclusion: A GuideThe statistics regarding representation of the disabled on government websites are worrying, but the real issue is the scope of the problem. While liberal first-world countries still fail to provide visibility for disabled citizens, little hope exists in creating a universal solution. Ableism is rife in society, and while government organizations purport it, this unfair prejudice will never change.
It’s easy to cast aside these issues a meaningless, but it’s undeniable that media has an incredible effect on how we see the world. Shunning valuable factors of society from these outlets is equally as destructive as excluding them in the real world. We have a responsibility to ensure disabled people, and other minorities, are given the visibility they deserve. Here’s what government websites need to do:
- Add an image that includes a person with a disability on the homepage or a heavily trafficked page.
- Do not just include people who are in a wheelchair, but also include the hearing impaired and blind.
- Maintain oversight to ensure men and women from all the different parts of the community are included.
What Can You Do?Let your local government know that this type of treatment will no longer be tolerated. In a world where we need to be inclusive of individuals from all walks of life, this can no longer continue.
- Share this article on Facebook, tweet it on Twitter – let other people know what is going on.
- If you have a website, include images of disabled people in NON-disability related stories, like what we did here.
- Add the following banner to your website with a link to the article