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Victory Over Disability

Inspiring and profound or a demeaning trope?
Published: 20 April 2023
Posted in: White Papers

Inspiring and profound or a demeaning trope?

Hint - it's the second one.
There's far too much to disability to dismiss it with such a simplistic, shallow concept.
The victory cripple is THE go-to thematic representation of disability in media. It's EVERYWHERE. The reason it's everywhere is because agencies and marketers who are not in the community love it. It gives non-disabled people a conscience-soothing image of freedom and "joie de vivre". It's a happy picture that eases their hearts.

While there are completely valid editorial uses for images like these, in marketing they usually backfire for two main reasons.

First - The technical aspects of the image are everything disabled people avoid. Weird and dangerous places you can't get to, or away from, on your own.. have you ever tried to wheel yourself on sand in a fifty pound hospital wheelchair? If not, you should try it some time.

The other main reason is the entire concept is from an able bodied person's idea of what disabled people are (or should be) about. That a disabled person's goal is to become not disabled, which is understandable on a personal, emotional level. Who wants to be disabled? For some disabled people, that's absolutely a goal especially if it's legitimately attainable. For those who can not achieve that goal, the main focus changes from overcoming the disability itself, to mitigating the damage caused by the state of disability.

The image of the woman on the phone is a more complete concept of overcoming disability without hiding it. She's in a fitted, usable wheelchair, she's well dressed and groomed, and working in a modern, clean, bright, non-medical setting.
The other side of the coin.
The empty wheelchair.

So moody and evocative.. the sunflare adds nuance to the the setting, the long shadow hinting at the dawn of a new day free from your disability. You have overcome. Do you feel it?

We don't. This type of imagery has the completely opposite reaction when marketing to disabled people. The lack of any context at all is the issue. When I see images like these, the only thing I wonder is if they're lying on the ground somewhere and their chair rolled away. It's anxiety creating. The same applies to using it to imply accessibility. An empty wheelchair in the middle of a kitchen or bathroom has the same effect.

The picture on the right also has empty wheelchairs and a completely different vibe. The trick is to show an empty chair from face on POV with the location of the empty chair owner known. When a disabled person transfers from their chair, that is the view they have. It creates ownership and a sense of identification.
The empty wheelchair.