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Advertisers – come and join the inclusivity revolution

Hi I’m Ian Treherne, “The Blind Photographer”

I was born profoundly deaf and then diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa Type 2 (also known as tunnel vision) at the age of 15.

I was hired to photograph the new Irwin Mitchell campaign, created by Merkle B2B, and was mentored on the shoot by Rankin.

We’re on the verge of a new inclusivity revolution. Society has taken baby steps towards this, starting with the Paralympics back in 2012, but it’s been an incredibly slow process. Disabled people have generally been kept to the side, out of the way, so the general public hasn’t had chance to embrace them. And, over the years, the commercial world has just never felt it necessary to portray us. Disabled people make up at least 30 per cent, if not more, of the population, so even from a business stand point it’s crazy to cut off such a large portion of your audience.

That’s important to me because I’ve got this real desire to help and inspire a new generation of photographers, and especially blind photographers who have not really been talked about before now. There have been a couple over the decades but since I was hired to work on the Irwin Mitchell campaign so many photographers have been in touch saying “thanks for doing this campaign, you’re inspiring me, and got me to pick up my camera.”

Challenging the old world

But it’s taken a personal journey to reach this stage. Looking back, I wasn’t an openly blind guy, I was still trying to blend into society and it’s only in the last few years that I’ve properly come out as a blind person. Being a blind photographer confuses a lot of people, so initially I didn’t want people to know about it but then I thought that it would be a good thing to ruffle a few feathers and get people asking “how is that even possible?”

It’s really the younger generation that inspired me to take this huge step forward because I don’t think I’d have the courage without the youngsters taking the bull by the horn and really challenging what I’d call “the old world”. And, when I was selected for the Irwin Mitchell campaign, I knew it was a big deal because they didn’t want to do the same old same old. It was probably the first time I’ve entered a commercial environment and not felt like the outcast or the only disabled person trying to fit into “the normal world.” It felt like we were teaching that old world how things can really be done.

The Irwin Mitchell campaign features a young girl called Haley, with cerebral palsy, and she made me look good because I connected with her so well and kept photographing her when she was relaxed, and playing, and we got such amazing shots. That came from asking questions, even though I’m disabled I don’t know everything about disability so I’ve got to learn and apply this to the job. I realised that day that my understanding of disability and people, my empathic side, is a skill that I can utilise in my photography to build a real connection with people.

The Rankin effect

In terms of having Rankin on board as a mentor, I was petrified when first meeting him but once we’d met he was a really cool guy who took the time to understand what I could see, and to ask the questions. He was there to mentor me but I think he came away thinking he’d actually learned a couple of things, so we were mentoring each other in a lot of ways. As he says himself, the more different people that you bring to the table, the better the ideas that you’re going to come up with.

To achieve this, companies need to improve their knowledge and there are funds out there for them to use through the Government’s Access to Work scheme. Ideally, it’s about setting up a way of being able to employ a broader range of people, it’s not that complicated, it should be standard practice. This isn’t all going to be a bed of roses but it’s not only going to make money for businesses but more truly reflect our changing society.

Like I say, positive things are happening. I work alongside the specialist talent agency Zebedee and during the past two or three years I’ve seen their people with Down’s Syndrome, prosthetic limbs, and dwarfism in commercials, and so things are going in the right direction but it’s still surprising that many major companies are so reluctant. They should take a leaf out of Irwin Mitchell’s book and join the inclusivity revolution before they’re left behind.

Watch the full Irwin Mitchell film here: 


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