With Great Power... Should Come Great Accessibility

Trends / Realness
Johner Images
Gabrielle Pedro Fredrick
Jan 5, 2022
I’m obsessed with Marvel comics. My knowledge on the topic isn’t exhaustive by any means, but I like to think that I could get far at a trivia night. Regardless, I’m a happy little pop culture fan right now. This past year has been fantastic for both Marvel characters and representation in those films.

Black Widow gave us a feminist story of loyalty, trust, and a chosen family while touching on more serious themes such as the exploitation and abuse of women. Shang‑Chi became our first Asian superhero who demonstrated the very Asian, but also very universal story of tangled familial expectations and ties – and ultimately an acceptance and compassion for our roots. The Superhero Formerly Known as Falcon and The Winter Soldier explored the deep and ever‑present wounds of systemic racism and gave the world a Captain America who just happens to be Black[1] – a lesson in intersectionality. WandaVision literally took us inside mental health, trauma, and coping with an incredible grief, while Loki gave us all existential headaches by asking questions about predestination and choosing our own fates. Then there was the Eternals, which not only had an inclusive, ethnically diverse cast, but also explored the representation of disabilities.

I’m especially excited since my favorite characters from the comics are finally making their solo debuts right now on Disney+. That’s right, the best superheroes with excessively purple costumes armed with just a bow and arrow[2] – Hawkeye…and the other Hawkeye, are finally here.
I’ll be brief here[3]. Hawkeye is a particularly momentous title since (technically[4]) he was the first portrayal of a superhero with a hearing disability. Hawkeye is by no means the first MCU superhero with a disability that we’ve seen, but with Daredevil and Professor X on a temporary hiatus, his solo introduction into the contemporary pop culture zeitgeist is a rare opportunity to discuss the representation of disabilities in media and visuals – which is rare in‑and‑of‑itself[5], even though at least 1 in 4 Americans are currently living with a disability. In case you were wondering about the math, that’s roughly 61 million people[6].

Even though our own Visual GPS[7] data reveals that 92% of Americans believe that people with disabilities have as much to contribute to society as those without disabilities and 94% believe that people with disabilities should be given equal opportunities, we’ve found that those people with disabilities have experienced an increase in bias in the past year. The top reason given is for being 'different', followed by being perceived as less than, or being unable to do what everyone else can do.
 Outside of television and movies, creative visuals are stopping short of being properly representative of the population that has a disability. A study conducted here at Getty Images revealed that less than 2% of widely used images represented people with disabilities and wheelchairs were overwhelmingly the primary visual indicator of someone being disabled. People with disabilities are frequently depicted in situations of care, support, or in medical circumstances – and less so seen being independent or simply living in a day‑to‑day scenario. You don’t need to have Olympic‑level agility or any other hyper‑developed skill to compensate for having a disability. There is a need for people living happy, successful lives in tandem with their disabilities.

We should remember that while we strive for authentic (superhuman abilities and the casting of big‑name actors aside) representations of people with disabilities, we should also consider how we make these depictions accessible to the very people being portrayed.

For instance, a piece by TIME[8] makes note that while Marvel Studios aimed to make the premiere of Eternals more inclusive and accessible, it’s often difficult for other theaters across the country to acquire American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters or open captions for those deaf or hard of hearing. This has prompted a larger conversation to provide other accommodations, such as description audio or closed captioning glasses.
On a smaller scale, here are simple things that we can do to help ensure accessibility for all, particularly within the visual space[9]

  • Include text descriptions of all non‑text videos and images. Many (if not all) social media websites allow for the use of alt‑text, which provides text descriptions of visuals for people who need that accommodation. Ensuring that all captions are as descriptive as possible is also a helpful standard practice. [10][11]

  •   Incorporate (descriptive) open or closed captioning for any videos for people who are deaf or hearing impaired.

  •   Conversely, consider descriptive audio for people who are blind or vision impaired.

  •   When using text overlay in visuals, ensure in a strong color contrast so that they are easier to read.
Like with alternative text, social media websites should have different accessibility features and clear instructions on how to incorporate them into their various posts. By making sure that all content is accessible can we truly be inclusive to all.

 Now if you’ll excuse me, I have an episode of Hawkeye to catch‑up on.
[1] "Black Falcon" [Marvel Studios; Falcon and the Winter Soldier]
[2] "None of this makes sense" [Marvel Studios; The Avengers: Age of Ultron]
[3] An example of the dynamic between Hawkeye and Hawkeye and why I love them [Matt Fraction & David Aja; Hawkeye: Marvel Comics]
[4] “Why Hawkeye Has Hearing Aids in His MCU Show” [ScreenRant]
[5] “Disability Representation Is Seriously Lacking In TV And Movies: Report [HuffPost]
[6] “Disability Impacts All of Us” [US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention]
[7] “Visual GPS” [Getty Images]
[8] “Eternals Introduces Marvel’s First Deaf Superhero. But Accessibility Issues Still Plague Moviegoers” [TIME]
[9] “Making Social Media More Accessible to People with Disabilities [3PlayMedia]
[10] “Social Media Accessibility: Quick Tips for Improving Your Reach [Bureau of Internet Affairs]
[11] “Usability & Web Accessibility” [Yale University]