Negative attitudes about and behaviours towards women with disability are harmful and exclusionary, contributing to poorer health, income, educational, and employment outcomes. Our study focused on what audiences learnt, felt, and did (what changed) after viewing self-portraits and stories by women with disability. We questioned whether a public exhibition of their artworks, created through photovoice methodology, could be an effective platform to provoke social change and increase inclusion for people with disability. We collected audience response to our exhibition to address a research gap and to provide an example for other photovoice researchers. We employed interpretive thematic analysis through a generic social processes framework to interrogate responses. Our findings indicate that audiences learnt as much about themselves and their views of disability as they did about the women photographers. The audience described feelings of empathic engagement. They also expressed an unsettling between previously held assumptions around disability and new perspectives gained through the exhibition. Audiences changed how they view women with disability by engaging with the underlying messages of equality in the self-portraits and stories. Audiences thought the exhibition would change other people’s views, too, indicating a pathway to greater inclusion for people with disability.


photovoice exhibition, social change, disability, self-portrait, audience response, generic social processes, interpretive thematic analysis, arts-based research, grounded theory, participatory action research, mixed methodology

Author Bio(s)

Diane Macdonald is a doctoral candidate at the School of Psychiatry UNSW Sydney and Black Dog Institute at UNSW Sydney. Her research area focuses on the intersection of photography, gender, and social justice. Previously, Diane was the Managing Editor of the Australian Journal of Human Rights, the Photo Editor of the Human Rights Defender and the Centre Manager for the Australian Human Rights Centre based at UNSW Law. She holds a Master of Documentary Photography, a Master of Business Administration and has been a professional photographer for over 30 years. https://orcid.org/0000-0002-4386-076X Please direct correspondence to: diane.macdonald@unsw.edu.au

Angela Dew is Associate Professor Disability and Inclusion at Deakin University, Melbourne where she is engaged in research and teaching related to people with disability and complex support needs. Angela is a sociologist with 40 years’ experience in the Australian disability sector. Her research relates to understanding the specific issues faced by people with cognitive disability and a range of complexities including living in rural and remote locations and coming from an Aboriginal or refugee background. Angela uses qualitative and arts-based methods within an integrated knowledge translation framework to ensure her research results in practical solutions that can be tailored to individuals and local communities. https://orcid.org/0000-0002-8800-5660 Please direct correspondence to: angela.dew@deakin.edu.au

Karen R. Fisher is a Professor at the Social Policy Research Centre, UNSW Sydney. Her research interests are the organisation of social services in Australia and China; disability and mental health policy; inclusive research and evaluation; and social policy process. Karen applies mixed methodology and adopts inclusive research methods with people with disability, families, policy officials and services providers. https://orcid.org/0000-0002-0828-6395 Please direct correspondence to: karen.fisher@unsw.edu.au

Professor Katherine M. Boydell is Head of the AKT (arts-based knowledge translation) Lab at the Black Dog Institute and Director of Knowledge Translation for Maridulu Budyari Gumal – Sydney Partnership in Health Education Research and Enterprise (SPHERE), one of 8 NHMRC Advanced Research Translational Centres. Her participatory, collaborative program of research uses the arts, broadly defined, in the research creation and dissemination process. She has published more than 250 peer-reviewed articles and book chapters and uses installation art as a knowledge translation strategy to share empirical research findings to a wide range of audiences. https://orcid.org/0000-0002-1464-8532 Please direct correspondence to: k.boydell@blackdog.org.au


We are grateful to photographers and co-researchers Kerry Fountain, Evianne Grosvenor, Melinda Montgomery, Karen Peacock, Marusha Rowe Pride and Malissa Thorpe for their dedication, diligence and guidance throughout this project. We thank Frida Kitas, Christine Brennan, Randwick City Council, the staff at Bowen Library Maroubra, Fergus Grealy and the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion team at UNSW for their support.

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