Special Needs

The idea that we need to focus our lenses on people with disabilities and special needs came to me while reading Daryl’s Lang’s (PDNPulse) post last week. He mentioned a new book by the well-known portrait, celebrity and ad photographer, Richard Corman. Corman has photographed the Special Olympics since 1991. In his book, I Am Proud: The Athletes of Special Olympics, Corman has captured the athlete’s joy and successes. While Corman is famous for his photography of professional athletics, celebrities and for advertising work, his sensitive treatment of Olympic athletes has greater meaning for him.

© Linea
© Alpy7

Organizations that support the efforts of the disabled need inexpensive images for newsletters and fund drives. And these images provide inspiration to all of us.

A few years ago I toured a complex of buildings and services for individuals with developmental disabilities in Chicago called Misericordia. Run by the Sisters of Charity, the goals are: ‘… maximizing (the residents’) level of independence and self-determination within an environment that fosters spirituality, dignity, respect and enhancement of quality of life’. We had lunch in the restaurant at Misericordia operated mostly by residents with Down’s Syndrome. I was singularly impressed with the happiness and pride in their work that these individuals expressed and evoked. It was one of the most joyful places I have visited. (And the food was good too.)

Down’s Syndrome seems to hard-wire sweetness and love into the personalities of those who have the condition. But equally inspirational are others who have become disabled through accidents, war injuries or illness and yet forge on with courage and humor. Especially inspirational and humbling are the athletes.

For someone like myself who considers taking the groceries out of the car a major workout, the idea of skiing on one leg or taking a hard block in wheelchair rugby is awesome. And by that I mean ‘awe inspiring’ as well as ‘cool’.

The challenges facing people with disabilities and their families are huge but don’t fall into the trap of featuring your models in negative situations that evoke overwhelming despair. Also don’t over sentimentalize their lives. Instead celebrate the positive: individuality, strength, courage, joy, humor, athletic ability and unique talents.

Corman is quoted in an interview in the Huffington Post, “I want our children to see them (the Special Olympic athletes) and to understand that the people in the pictures are strong, not weak”. He also quotes Kofi Annan. He (Annan) said, "Disabilities are yet another manifestation of global diversity. Let us always be committed to the fundamental principles of dignity and equality for all human beings."

© Anirav

Take a look at Corman's wonderful images on his website.

Interview in Huffington Post


Murderball Review of a film about professional level wheelchair rugby.

Photo credits: Richard Abplanalp, Varina And Jay Patel, Darryl Brooks, Jazavac, Tomasz Markowski, Shariff Che\' Lah, Eric Cote.

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January 12, 2008


I too felt people with special needs were good to photograph but was scared of how others would use the photos. Thanks for this...

November 27, 2007


Nice article. I have a good friend who lost a leg and is still working at getting his life back to the way he wants it and in the past I have helped with special children at school.
My best story is the time I was helping at a triathlon and a boy who was wearing a prosthesis pulled me aside, and asked me to stand at the waters edge and hand his leg to him as he got into the shallow area. That way he could put it on before having to literally crawl out. I found out later that he was trying out a brand new prosthesis that was going to be marketed for cyclists and runners.
My personal story is a granddaughter. She doesn't have anything really bad she was just born with a cleft lip. It was fixed somewhat after she was born and can be made "proper" when she's old enough to want plastic surgery. Of course, as pretty as she is I want to use pictures of her. I fixed her mouth in some and in others I left it, if the shot wasn't a closeup. If I get the good side I do nothing but have wondered about the natural photos. They were accepted so at least they are in my portfolio!

November 27, 2007


Thank you so much!!!! This hits really close to home. I take team photos for the local chapter of Miracle league baseball and have falling in love with these special needs children. My 8 year old granddaughter has CP and is autistic. and all though i would LOVE to place photos of her here i cannot because od adoption issues. Though how would photos of things she uses every day do, like her wheelchair, leg braces, feeding tubes, bottles of meds? Also what about a special needs accasable playground or wheelchair lift into a swimming pool.

November 27, 2007


I can't tell you how much this touches my heart. I have struggled lately with whether or not to submit images that I have of a dear friend of mine. My concern has been that I didn't want this precious little girl to be exploited by those who didn't have a "heart" and would use the images of her for purposes that would hurt, not help. There is this sweet little girl in our church who has become known as our "official greeter". NO ONE enters those doors without being hugged, kissed, and shown how much their presence there means to her. You are right, there is a love and acceptance - uncondiitonal almost - in them that is beyond our comprehension. I have been blessed to be able to photograph her, and her parents have given me a release. I have just been praying about whether or not, and how, to use these images that can do nothing but touch even the coldest heart and make you smile. I will be forever astounded, and encouraged, by the inner strength, determination, never-say-quit attitude, and LOVE, that posseses these children and adults. Thank you SO much for sharing this.

November 27, 2007


Thank you.

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