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Two ladies look at and touch lily pads on a raised pond

12 Nov 2021

Why representation matters

Article by Claire Francis

Why representation matters

When you look at images of people doing things that you like doing, perhaps going for a walk, playing in the park, or enjoying the countryside do you see yourself reflected back?

If you do then great, you know that you are welcome in said shop, park, or outdoor space. If, however you don’t then subconsciously you begin to question whether that place really is for you. Will you be welcome, and will you be catered for?

We know that people with disabilities and long-term illnesses often face a plethora of barriers in accessing outdoor spaces. These barriers are often talked about in terms of physical and logistical. Are there ramps for wheelchair access, accessible parking, autism friendly sessions?

What's seldom talked about are the perceived barriers, the things stopping someone even thinking about going somewhere before these physical barriers come into play. One important barrier is representation, are we seeing people just like ourselves at these places reflected in a positive, non-tokenistic light.

Representation in outdoor spaces matters and we need to see this reflected back in imagery.

Two cyclists using wheelchair-adapted bikes

Easier said than done? Absolutely, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. Images of people enjoying outdoor spaces such as national parks and woodlands all too often feature able bodied people in technical outdoor wear having a great time. That’s all very well but it’s just a small subsection of society. We want to see real people of all abilities enjoying spending time outdoors, signalling to others that they can too.

This of course isn’t just a disability issue, the issue of representation in the outdoors intersects with people of colour, diverse social backgrounds, and that of the LGBTQ community. We all need to know that it is ok for us to be enjoying the outdoors, we are valid, and we are welcome.

Three people walking and laughing outside

“Those representations soon become pillars of confidence, creating space for the underrepresented, harbouring what has always been to them a mere possibility of a proper chance of being seen.” - Why representation matters - in your workplace and beyond

Sensory Trust is working with Natural England to produce a collection of media ready images depicting a wide range of people using and enjoying outdoor spaces.