Breaking the Stereotypes: the importance of Authenticity in Photos and Illustrations

Christiane Link
4 min readJul 3, 2023

“Oh cool, another rainbow train” was my first thought when I saw the new Elizabeth Line Pride train — until I saw the awful illustration of a wheelchair user next to the door at the top of the train. Some of my biggest pet peeves are stereotypical illustrations and fake photos of wheelchair users and other disabled people. Every day, I see them on LinkedIn, on news websites, and in marketing campaigns. I really don’t want to see one on a train.

Top of the rainbow train with a old-fashioned video. The wheelchair user is a black teenager with a yellow sports jacket.

The wheelchair user on the Elizabeth Line train doesn’t look authentic to me. It looks like a very old hospital wheelchair, and the teenager in it makes the contrast even worse. He looks sporty, but the wheelchair doesn’t fit him. It is too big and heavy; it would be very difficult to manoeuvre in such a wheelchair through London using public transport.

These unrealistic images of disability can perpetuate harmful stereotypes and reinforce negative attitudes towards disabled people, contributing to further exclusion and marginalisation. It’s the opposite of what Pride stands for. In contrast, authentic illustrations and photos of disabled people can challenge these stereotypes and promote a positive image of disability. I personally feel more excluded when I see a fake photo of a disabled person than when I don’t see a disabled person at all.

Is it really that difficult to use authentic images of wheelchair users?

No, it isn’t. I know most non-disabled people can’t see it, but many wheelchair users see when photos are fake. Especially in transport, these photos are everywhere. Not many marketing teams seem to make an effort to find out which wheelchairs we really use and to hire disabled models.

Badly fitting wheelchairs are harmful. They cause pressure sores or worse. That’s nothing any equality campaign should ever normalise. Also, if a marketing campaign uses non-disabled models for disabled roles, the whole campaign becomes disingenuous and even unfair. Non-disabled fake models push disabled models out of business.

The use of stock photos of fake disabled people contributes to the marginalisation and exclusion of disabled people, perpetuates harmful stereotypes…

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Christiane Link

Passionate about accessibility in rail, transport and aviation. German Londoner with two passports, wheelchair-using geek.