Lottie Galpin

The power of pictures

I’m going to start this post with a little challenge. Grab the nearest textbook and look through the pages. As you do so, pay special attention to the photos and illustrations and consider this question: What story do the images in the book tell students about the world?

Images dominate the pages of many English language teaching (ELT) courses. They’re used to create visual appeal (decorative images) and they’re used to help students understand all kinds of content from vocab sets to reading texts (functional images). The fact they are so prominent means that they play a big part in constructing the reality the book presents to students.

So, take another look at that textbook. I’m willing to bet that the images represent a world that is largely attractive, Euro- or US- centric, financially comfortable, heteronormative, non-disabled and probably pretty limited in terms of ethnic diversity; a world in which these characteristics are considered normal. This depiction is at best, misleading, and at worst, it excludes students who don’t fit the narrow categories of ‘normal’.

This needs to change. We need to be creating materials with images that represent the world as it is, with all its beautiful diversity. Doing this allows students to see themselves in their materials, improving student engagement and their sense of belonging in the learning environment. What’s more, it helps to prepare students for the real world, making them better global citizens. Consider the effect of presenting the photos below as a complete family.

A composite of 4 photos: 
1) A mixed-ethnicity family with two mothers and two children. 
2) A wedding photo of a couple with their Jack Russell between them. They have their eyes clothes and are hugging/kissing the dog. Ethnicity unclear.
3) A man kissing a baby. Ethnicity unclear.
4) A couple with a man and woman and their adult son. The son appears to have Down's Syndrome.
Photo credits (left to right)
Top row :
BDAB creativity on Shutterstock; Vino Li on Unsplash;
Bottom row: Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash, Nathan Anderson on Unsplash
A collage of 4 photos showing familoes
1) A young women with her daughter. Ethnicity unclear.
2) A young man and woman  outside. The man uses a prosthetic leg.
3) A family with two fathers and two children. The fathers and son appear to be white. One child appears to be mixed-ethnicity.
4) A man with a black cat.
Photo credits (left to right)
Top row: jhon-david on unsplash; South Agency on Canva
Bottom row: Creatista on Shutterstock; Baran Lotfollahi on Unsplash

While many content creators are on board with this in theory, a practical stumbling block is that image banks often lack diverse photos and illustrations. The good news is that there are photo libraries that are starting to fill that diversity gap. So if you’re looking for stunning diverse images for your materials, check out the list below.

Do you know of any other diverse image banks? Let me know in the comments. And, do let me know what you think of the banks as I’ll be updating the list periodically.

https://bodyliberationphotos.com/body-liberation-stock-body-fat-positive-diverse-photos/stock images of large bodies
https://www.disabilityimages.com/ positive lifestyle imagery of authentic people with real disabilities
Stock Image Library featuring individuals with disabilities
https://disabilityin.org/resource/disability-stock-photography/disability inclusive stock photography
https://affecttheverb.com/collection/disabled Black, Indigenous, people of color (BIPOC) across the Pacific Northwest.
https://genderphotos.vice.com/a stock photo library featuring images of trans and non-binary models
https://diversityphotos.com/about/visual content that authentically represents our global community.
https://www.wocintechchat.com/blog/wocintechphotosphotos to show a different representation of all women in tech
https://www.pocstock.com/diverse and culturally accurate images of people of color
https://www.mochastock.com/quality images of people of color
https://www.nappy.co/ high-res photos of black and brown people

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