Changing the World's View of Disability: Dr. Rebecca Swift, Getty Images

Dr. Rebecca Swift
Global Head of Creative Insights Getty Images

Tell us a bit about yourself and your role in the Disability Collection.

We’re surrounded by advertising nearly every minute of every day, but sadly, a solid portion of the imagery we see in these every day moments fails to reflect us, our loved ones or our lives. But for people with disabilities, the gap between the media and real life is often far wider. Although nearly 20% of people have a disability, disabled people are featured in less than 2% of media.

For me, it has been and always will be, about ensuring authentic representation across the board—whether it’s women, minority groups or disabled persons. We’re passionate about this at Getty Images, and it’s something we’ve done several times before, with our LeanIn, Project #ShowUs and Nosotros collections.
As the Global Head of Creative Insights, it is my job to understand how the world is using imagery, but more importantly (I think) is to inspire photographers and filmmakers to bring more inclusivity to their casting decisions to better reflect the world. With regard to the Disability Collection, we provided our network of contributing photographers with the detailed guidance they needed in order to create incredible imagery that accurately represents people living with disabilities.  

What led to the creation of the collection? How did Getty Images, Verizon Media and the National Disability Leadership Alliance come together?

Just over a year ago, Getty Images launched this particular partnership with Verizon Media and the National Disability Leadership Alliance (NDLA), a cross-disability coalition led by 17 national organizations headed by people with disabilities, to create imagery that more accurately portrays individuals with disabilities. The Disability Collection aims to break stereotypes while also addressing the gap mentioned above, by encouraging the creation of imagery which authentically reflects the everyday moments of people living with disabilities—physical and mental.
Getty Images has been Verizon Media’s preferred photo provider for over ten years, and they were immediately interested in collaborating with us on the project. At the time our customer search data showed a significant desire for high-quality, modern images that accurately represent people with disabilities. Global search data from 2016 to 2017 indicated that searches for "wheelchair access" increased 371% year over year on Additionally, "disabled worker" was up 254%, "autism awareness" increased 196%, and "deafness" was up 144%.
Disability leaders have been central to this project since the formation, and the project is guided by insights from disability-specific focus groups hosted by Verizon Media and the NDLA.
With over 1,100 assets to date, The Disability Collection empowers the creative and advertising industries to get real about disability representation with photography which can be licensed and used by anyone in the world. Although we cannot change what people publish or click on overnight, we do believe we can provide better alternatives for those looking to create more authentic stories.

From your research, what are some of the most common stereotypes those with disabilities would like to see avoided in their portrayal?
The most common stereotypes are that disabled means someone in a wheelchair or with prosthetics. Both are highly visible and prosthetics are associated with the Paralympics especially. However, disabilities are not always visible and this is what we are looking to move towards.
Typically, content makers will set out to create “disabled” content. The shoot will be focused on the person with a disability, isolating them from the world and featuring the issues that someone with disabilities lives with. We wanted to turn that perception on its head, focusing instead on the world and how people with disabilities contribute to the everyday—whether that be at work, as a couple, within a family, travelling etc.
We worked together with Verizon Media and NDLA to identify the types of images that perpetuate myths surrounding people living with disabilities, and in turn developed a comprehensive set of guidelines for how to authentically reflect people with disabilities in photography. NDLA representatives considered key questions of representation such as how do disabled persons want to see disability depicted, what kinds of situations they would like to see depicted and how photographers can incorporate the intersections between disability, race and gender. Getty Images then took these guidelines and shared them with our global network of photographers and The Disability Collection is the end result. We are building this Collection around ALL disabilities. There are no age limits. We are aiming to represent everyone.

In your opinion, do you believe representation of disabilities is getting better in advertising? Are there any examples you can point to?
Remember that 2% statistic I mentioned above? We admittedly have a long way to go, but I believe we’re making headway. For instance, we’ve always had customers searching for “disability,” but now, we’ve seen a shift which is more nuanced, with search terms like “accessibility,” “learning disability” and “intellectually disabled.” When taken together, these terms highlight the diverse demand for truly representative creative photography. They also highlight how seriously some of our customers are working to shut down stereotypes and commit to more inclusive representation.
At a time when imagery is the most widely used global language, it has never been more important to produce and promote a visual language that is both progressive and inclusive, and to support diverse voices in doing so. To be frank, the media has the power to dispel stereotypes and influence attitudes and beliefs—which is why we’re calling on the industry to commit to more inclusive representation. Together we can create this long overdue change.
When I consider brands that are acknowledging disability in an appropriate way, I think of Delta and Nike who have added disability into the mix when featuring diverse casts in their advertisements. For me, the Maltesers advertisements in the UK are making steps forward.

Throughout the first year of the Disability Collection, have there been any insights you’ve gained that stand out?  

Already, we’ve seen an increase in searches for disability-related images on, which is refreshing. As a search term, “disability” is up 98% from 2017 to 2018, whereas “people with disabilities” is up 218% and “disabled accessibility” is up 124%. These stats are promising and further demonstrate an uptick in demand for this kind of creative—a demand which I’m hopeful will continue to rise, as will the availability of such imagery.

What are Getty Images' goals for the collection by this time in 2020?
We want to change the way the world views disability, and key to that end is empowering the media and brands to be more inclusive in their imagery choices. We want authentic visual representation to become the norm, not the exception. Just as you should consider the ethnic, gender and age breakdown of your audience, you should be cognizant of disability. That doesn’t mean it should be highlighted, just included in the mix of what we call daily life.
By June of 2020, I’d love for this collection to have doubled in size, and I’d love to see more and more brands and businesses licensing these images to communicate with people the world over in a more authentic way. This is a living, growing Collection, and we’re collectively encouraging photographers—including those with disabilities—to join us and help us expand. Photographers can sign up and submit images here.