Every year, over 540,000 people in the UK are estimated to acquire a disfiguring condition to their face, hands or body – from birth.

Language Matters

Notes for teachers using images of appearance and difference.

Before you start: Words matter too – read our Language Matters notes for teachers.

Welcome back. Now that you have had a chance to consider how language matters, let us look at the importance of visuals.

Prevalent misconceptions about people with disfigurements include

– their lives are tragic and isolated
– they don’t care about their appearance
– they are or will becomes anti-social or criminal
– they have learning difficulties

Media and cultural stereotypes abound from nursery tales to computer games, all helping to perpetuate these myths. Who hasn’t seen images and footage of lonely, embittered people in need of miraculous surgical ‘cures’ to rescue them from utterly miserable lives? Documentaries and news stories that use sad music and sombre lighting can create – and seem to want to create – a mood of despair.

All this means that people who have conditions, injuries and illnesses that affect the way they look must also somehow overcome negative stereotyping and media hype in order to be themselves and enable others to see them for who they really are.
Don’t use:

– Dark, tragic isolated images
– Avoid photographing, filming or using images of people with disfigurements.

Do use:

– Images of people with visible differences joining in at school and at work, and with their friends and families.
– Capture images of all your pupils or students busy learning, and also having fun together.

Parental permission is invariably required before filming or photographing children and young people. Always ask your young subjects too – are they okay with being filmed or photographed? How would they like to be seen?

A teacher in north London recalls: “A photographer comes in once a year to do formal portraits which many of our parents still like to have of their children in school uniform. But Donna had been injured in a fire and we fixed the photography date for a day when Donna had a hospital visit scheduled.

The next day, when she heard from the other kids about the photography session she’d missed, she just broke down and cried. We had thought it would be awkward, walking on eggshells, that sort of thing. But we just should have asked her whether or not she wanted to have her picture taken.

So we arranged for an LSA and a classmate to go with her to the photographer’s studio in the High Street at lunchtime, and her picture came back with all the others at the end of the week. It seems we were the one’s with the learning difficulty. After all, she’s a great kid with a great smile. Why wouldn’t she want her picture taken?”