Getty Images (NYSE: GETY), a preeminent global visual content creator and marketplace, together with Verizon, have today announced the recipients of a $20,000 creative grant aimed at highlighting the diversity, strength, and beauty of the disability community through the lens of joy and empowerment.

Recent findings from Getty Images’ VisualGPS global research underscore the need for improved representation, with only 1% of visuals in media and advertising showcasing individuals with disabilities. This lack of representation, especially in significant life moments, underlines the urgency for authentic portrayals that resonate with the diverse realities of the disability community.

"Stereotypes surrounding the physical beauty and capabilities of the disability community impact the way they are perceived at every level," said Dr. Rebecca Swift, Senior VP of Creative at Getty Images. "We are excited to announce these grant winners, who are reshaping the way disabilities are visualized in broader society, challenging existing stereotypes, and fostering a more inclusive representation."

"Expanding perceptions of beauty changes how people see themselves," said Zachary Bastian, Senior Manager, Strategic Alliances, Verizon. "Verizon proudly collaborates with Getty Images on the Disability Collection, celebrating positive depictions of disability in everyday life. Judging these beautiful and joyful photographs was an incredible honor. Congratulations to the grant winners and everyone who participated."

The recipients of the grant are:

First Place (US $10,000)

Oaklee Thiele (she/her/hers) is a disability rights activist and protest artist, focusing on capturing life from the perspective of the disability community while addressing systemic discrimination within academic and artistic institutions. Oaklee embraces self-portraiture as a means of challenging stereotypes about disabled life, and through this lens, aims to showcase the creativity and resourcefulness of disabled individuals, emphasizing that, for example, a wheelchair is not a hindrance but a valuable tool enabling independent living.

Second Place (US $7,000)

Erena Shimoda, originally from Tokyo, is a highly skilled underwater portrait photographer based in San Francisco. After obtaining her Divemaster certificate, Shimoda began capturing stunning underwater photographs in various locations. Following a life-altering car accident that left her severely injured, Shimoda initiated the Underwater Transformation project. Leveraging her background in New Media and Fine Art, she employs total immersion and portrait photography to help individuals overcome trauma, including those dealing with physical disabilities, domestic violence, and PTSD. Shimoda believes in the power of art to raise awareness about critical issues and create a sense of community.

Third Place (US $3,000)

Sam Tokita is a multi-talented individual renowned for her expertise in Muay Thai and photography. Her diverse journey includes engagements in theatre arts, makeup artistry, and video production. Driven by a passion for connecting with people and uncovering their stories, Sam focuses on building meaningful relationships during her photo sessions. Her personal experiences, navigating the intersections of sports, photography, and living with a disability, have played a crucial role in overcoming internalized ableism.

Recipients were selected by an esteemed panel of judges, including:

  • Mayaan Ziv: Founder CEO, AccessNow
  • Megan Henshall: Strategic Lead, Global Event Solutions – Google
  • Susan Freundlich: Director of Development at DREDF – The Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund
  • Zachary Bastian: Senior Manager, Strategic Alliances at Verizon
  • Dr. Rebecca Swift: Senior VP of Creative at Getty Images

This initiative builds on The Disability Collection, launched in 2018 by Verizon and Getty Images in collaboration with the National Disability Leadership Alliance, aiming to authentically represent people with disabilities in the media. Getty Images’ wider grants program, established in 2004, has awarded over US $2.6 million, highlighting the company’s commitment to photography and bringing attention to important stories that without funding, may otherwise remain unseen.

Media contact:Alex Lazaroualex.lazarou@gettyimages.com

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