Sometimes it can be difficult to find just the right image. Here are a few hints to help you decide whether a particular image or set of images is culturally appropriate, clear, and inclusive, and to make sure that the image supports and does not detract from your message. Also refer to the Health Equity Considerations for Developing Public Health Communications page.
- Consider the intended audience, the intended use, and the full set of images planned;
- Include your intended population of focus in the decision-making process;
- If the intended audience is the general population, include representatives from diverse racial/ethnic, cultural, and other populations.
- Work with community members, leaders, and those with population-specific, lived experiences to develop and validate images to ensure they are culturally appropriate, clear, and inclusive.
- Limit using traditional or cultural dress images unless the message is specific and appropriate to those customs, traditions, or cultural practices for your intended audience.
- Avoid using images that could perpetuate negative stereotypes, including inequities in status or caricatures. Instead, choose images that show people in ordinary settings wearing modern, typical, and common clothing.
- Make sure images are accessible to people with disabilities and people with limited English proficiency. Provide alternative (alt) text that clearly describes the image.
- Use images that depict positive, health-promoting behaviors.
- Avoid unintentionally implying that population groups are responsible for their own disparities in health outcomes.
Hints: Choosing an image or infographic
Ask yourself if an image says what you want it to say. Ask yourself if there is anything about it that could be interpreted negatively. Then ask yourself (or someone from your intended audience) if the image…
- Diverse representation within your intended audience.
- Appropriate use of cultural dress, activities, or objects and settings that are relevant to the intended audience.
- Positive portrayals, including positive health behaviors.
- Diverse beauty standards whenever possible and appropriate.
- Perpetuating stereotypical power or status inequities.
- A staged or artificial feeling.
- Features that can be easily understood by people with disabilities.
- Depictions of people with a variety of disabilities as members of the general population (not just when communicating about disability).
- Accurate depictions of people with a disability and their assistive technology.
Evaluating an Image
Context matters, as does the intended use and the population of focus. Images appropriate for one context may not be appropriate for another. People may belong to more than one group. Community engagement is crucial for inclusive communication.
Remember: You don’t need to answer Yes to every question in this list to be able to use an image. Also, you may be able to answer both Yes and No. For example, Yes for cultural or religious diversity, but No for gender diversity within the image(s), and that may be okay.
Guidance for choosing the right images
Use this as a road map to help you find the best images(s) to complement your communication.
- Who is the intended audience?
- How will the image be used?
- (social media post, web page, print material)
Then look at the image(s) under consideration, and ask…
Does the image/Do the images…
- Show diverse representation within your intended audience?
- Include diversity in terms of age, gender, race/ethnicity, culture, national origin, disability, sexual orientation, body size, and other factors.
- Show appropriate use of cultural dress, activities or objects, and relevant settings?
- Limit the use of traditional or cultural dress images unless appropriate to the audience and use, and show relevant home, work, or community locations.
- Show positive portrayals and health behaviors?
- Be aware of existing power or status inequities and counter those with positive portrayals.
- Show diverse beauty standards?
- Choose images that support broad standards of beauty.
- Avoid stereotypical power or status inequities, as well as unintentional blaming?
- Avoid negative stereotypes, including inappropriate humor, and avoid caricatures.
- Avoid images that imply people are responsible for their own disparities.
- Avoid a staged or artificial feeling?
- Choose more natural groupings and settings to avoid appearing to “try too hard” to show diversity.
- Include features that can be easily understood by people with disabilities?
- Allow people with disabilities to access the information by inserting clear alt text.
- Make sure images have enough color contrast for people with low visual acuity.
- Ensure communication products don’t rely on images as the main source of guidance.
- Choose more literal illustrations, as people with intellectual limitations may struggle to understand abstract images.
- Include depictions of people with disabilities as part of the general public?
- Make sure people with disabilities are depicted in images portraying the general population, not only when communicating about disabilities
- Include accurate depictions of people with a disability and their assistive technology?
- Don’t forget that not all disabilities are visible, and there are many types of disabilities and assistive technologies.
You might answer both yes and no (it depends) to the same question.
- If all or most of the answers are yes, this suggests that an image may work well for your intended audience.
- If all or most answers are no, this suggests that an image may not appropriate for your intended audience or may be unintentionally offensive, and you should consider a different image.
Suggestions for improvement
- Consider that the audience may not read your text – so the images are the message.
If checking with your intended audience
- What questions do you want them to answer?
- When asking for feedback, consider whether to include participants who are diverse in terms of age, gender, and other factors.
Reasons for final choice
Remember, choosing an image always depends on the topic, the audience, and the context, and the best choice involves many considerations.