We live in a world of imagery, especially since the advent of the smart phone with advanced digital photo and video capabilities. In the old days we carried our snapshots around in albums or maybe a box or two. We had hundreds of photos and were prone to lose some as we moved from place to place. Now we have thousands stored in our computers and smart phones and are still prone to lose them — through hard drive crashes, lost thumb drives or just sheer unmanageable numbers.
The NEW MOBILITY issue you are reading now is proof of how important images have become to disability advocacy. Our Person of the Year, Reveca Torres, is being honored, at least in part, because her project, “Reinventing the Wheel,” a traveling photo exhibit, depicts wheelchair users in ways that break stereotypes. It is advocacy by image, a hybrid of advertising technique, realism, creative photography and intentional promotion. We are saying to the public: Look at us — we are more than you thought; we are like you, but we are also unique.
NM’s Person of the Year issue goes back to 1998. In all, we have chosen 20 POYs from then until now — 12 men, 7 women, and one fictitious television character. Of the first 15, most were chosen because of their advocacy involving disability issues. But four out of the last five POYs were chosen because of their ability to improve the image of disability. Besides Reveca this year, we have honored, looking back, Jason DaSilva for his filmmaking achievements in telling the story of his battle with MS; Deborah Davis, for her one-woman fight for inclusion and realism in media images; and “Artie,” a character on TV’s Glee, for attracting so much attention.
Admittedly, Artie was a stretch, and some NM readers were upset because they thought we were honoring the nondisabled actor who portrayed Artie. Our choice was intentionally ironic: We wanted to show the power of images to get it wrong as well as get it right.
While mainstream media still gets it wrong where wheelchair users are concerned, more and more real-life wheelers are finding their way into the media mix. The world of advertising may be doing a better job of representing us authentically than the occasional TV series or movie. Advertising is supposed to move us to action, so it is aimed at demographic groups, and disabled actors are appearing in more and more TV spots. In our April issue, Allen Rucker will interview movers and shakers in the ad world and show us why and how this is happening.
But don’t wait until April to look for positive images of disability in ads. As I write this, it is holiday season, and a national grocery/department chain is running a TV ad of a 20-30 something male para hosting a holiday party where he and his “millennial” friends are celebrating. The ad concludes when the group sits down for dinner and the para hoists a glass of wine and leads a holiday toast — from the head of the table.
Now that’s progress.