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Brewers Collective Releases Free Disability-Inclusive Stock Image Library

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Stock images that show people with disabilities are notoriously bad — from perpetuating the “helpless” wheelchair user stereotype to showing only seniors using mobility aids. One company wanted to help change that and created a new set of free disability stock images — all featuring beer.

On Tuesday, Brewers Collective (the craft brew business unit of Anheuser-Busch) announced the expansion of its free stock photography library to include people with disabilities through its Elevate initiative. The latest addition to its collection follows the launch of a photo library that better represented women and people of color in beer-related stock photos in 2018.

“I’m immensely proud that we’ve expanded our stock photography initiative to spotlight one of the most under-represented groups of people, people with disabilities,” Brewers Collective President Marcelo “Mika” Michaelis said in a press release. “We have an opportunity to be an advocate for inclusivity and diversity, not only for the betterment of our industry, but also to grow as a category. It’s imperative that all of our customers feel seen, heard and represented.”

Two women who use wheel chairs playing an oversized game of Connect 4

Brewers Collective worked with disabled athlete Aaron Baker, who served as a creative director and consultant, for the stock photography series.

“As leaders in their industry, Anheuser-Busch and Brewers Collective can set the standard, an example of inclusion, equality and care,” Baker said. “I want to know that the companies I support by buying their products, support me.”

Two women sitting on the back of a truck petting a dog and drinking beer with a woman using a wheelchair next to the car

For brands like Brewers Collective and Anheuser-Busch, it’s clear that including and representing people with disabilities is a smart financial decision. A 2017 National Business & Disability Council survey found that 66% of consumers want to buy from businesses that feature people with disabilities in their advertising. The American Institutes for Research found disabled people account for $490 billion in spending power each year. Despite a few strides in advertisement representation, there is still inclusion work to be done.

According to Fast Company, a study conducted by Getty Images found that while people with disabilities make up 25% of the population, they are represented in only 2% of available stock images. In the same study, Getty found search demand for disability-inclusive stock images was up — “wheelchair access” searches increased 371% from 2016 to 2017 while autism-related searches increased 434%. Stock images that do include disabled people are also prone to portraying stereotypes or negative disability attitudes.

“They’re either depicted as superhuman or super pathetic,” Rebecca Swift, Getty Images’ director of visual insights, told Fast Company in 2018. “There doesn’t seem to be that broad range that you get with able-bodied people.”

The new photos from the Elevate initiative, which are available for free through Pexels and Unsplash, include people with disabilities enjoying beer with friends in a variety of settings. Several images show people who use wheelchairs and scooters, both outdoors and indoors. Other images feature people who use prosthetics, and another features a woman with an ostomy bag.

Two women and a man at a table with glasses of beer

Along with Baker, Oregon Adaptive Sports participated in the new photo series, which it sees as an important step toward more accurately representing the rich lives people with disabilities actually live.

Pat Addabbo, Oregon Adaptive Sports executive director, said in a statement:

Individuals with disabilities are however vastly underrepresented in the media we consume every day, and when featured, the focus often falls on the interaction between the disability and the activity, rather than between individuals and their shared interests. We hope the program encourages continued and more equal representation of all individuals.

While initiatives like this can be construed as pure marketing, media representation can have a lasting positive impact. In her piece that explains how to improve disability representation in stock images, Mighty contributing editor Karin Willison wrote:

Stock photos are so ubiquitous these days, we often don’t even think about them. It’s easy to dismiss typical stock photos as bland, generic representations of a concept, service or profession. They don’t tend to be memorable, and that’s often by design. But when we actually look at these so-called generic representations, it becomes clear that they say a lot about how society views certain groups of people. Let’s start being thoughtful and intentional when we choose stock photos to make sure we’re truly representing everyone.

Images via Brewers Collective/Elevate

Originally published: October 1, 2019
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