Deborah Davis

Changing How People Look at Disabilities, One Image at a Time

Deborah Davis wants to change the way you see the world.

Davis is the founder and owner of PUSH Living, an online magazine for people in wheelchairs that focuses on accessible travel, lifestyle and business stories. Left in a wheelchair following a car accident at age 18, she went on to college, got married, had kids. She worked in nonprofit and for-profit businesses before deciding to start her own business.

“I wanted to tell stories about people like me – moms, wives, partners, friends, entrepreneurs. People. We’re just people,” she says. “I felt like it filled a need within the community.”

Her magazine profiles entrepreneurs who are in wheelchairs and features vacation spots that are inclusive. “We have people who are opening their doors to us, to offer access, but there is nothing (on their websites or advertising) to show that they are accessible.”

To that end, her company in 2016 began selling stock lifestyle photos of people in wheelchairs to encourage corporations and media to be more inclusive in the images they show. They use models who are actually wheelchair users to ensure authenticity, and the models get paid for shoots and royalties for photos that are used, so it’s creating work as well as changing the way people look at disabilities. “We really hate to see images that are faked. It’s so easy to tell. They are not good representations of who we are.”

When the stock image business first started, it was featured by ABC on their business page. Davis said she was sure that sort of coverage would have tourism bureaus clamoring for photos – but so far, that hasn’t happened. Most of the stock photos they sell are used by the government sector and hospitals. Soon, Davis plans to start a Kickstarter and public relations campaign to raise awareness about the inclusive stock photos. On social media and on PUSHLiving.com, she uses hashtags like #pushauthentic and #elevatedisability.

Davis says she would love to see images of people with disabilities used more broadly in media.
“Imagery is everything. To see a woman in a wheelchair holding a baby, for instance, and both of them looking happy. It’s such a natural thing. But some people don’t even know that people with disabilities can have babies. Or be beautiful. Or sexual. The impact that images like that could have is profound.”

Her goal is to change the way people view disabilities, she says. “I just want people to see people for who they are. For it to become natural and normal to see people with disabilities in ads. That will help everyday people who don’t have disabilities. And think how it will help people with disabilities feel! It will be better for all of us.”

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