Special Education

A Photographer’s Push to Reframe ‘Disabilities’

By Liana Loewus — June 12, 2013 1 min read
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In February, Teacher did a chat with Thomas Armstrong, author of Neurodiversity in the Classroom: Strength-Based Strategies to Help Students with Special Needs Succeed in School and Life. Armstrong advocates for changing the “disability discourse” by talking about students’ strengths, capabilities, and interests rather than their deficits and dysfunctions. Teachers, he says, should celebrate neurological diversity in the classroom by using strategies that focus on students’ positive attributes.

For many, his views seem too idealistic. But a photo feature on NBC News made me wonder if perhaps this idea is catching on—and outside the education realm. The piece profiles photographer Rick Guidotti, who after years of shooting high fashion in Milan and New York, began taking photos of people with genetic differences. Disturbed by the way these conditions were presented in medical textbooks, Guidotti aimed to present them in a more positive (what Armstrong might call “strengths-based”) way. “It’s about reinterpreting beauty,” Guidotti told NBC. “It’s about having an opportunity to see beyond what you’re told and what we’re forced to believe that that’s beauty.”

The images are striking—a visual representation of what it means to celebrate diversity. Guidotti also uses them as a call to the medical community to reframe their own discourse on disability. He explains:

I've spoken to so many genetic counselors who have a family in front of them and say "Ok, this is what your daughter is going to have. Read this." And they cover up the photograph because it will freak the family right out. There's gotta be something else we can do. There's gotta be another way to present that information to that family.

Guidotti now speaks to medical students about finding the humanity in medicine and focusing on not what, but who they’re treating. See the NBC interview below (note that it’s a little over seven minutes long).

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.