UK HDI celebrates disability representation with stock photo project


LEXINGTON, Ky. (Sept. 28, 2023) — Having meetings. Studying for class. Enjoying the outdoors. All are common interactions often depicted in stock photos featured on websites, social media, news releases and more. 

A team of staff at the University of Kentucky’s Human Development Institute (HDI) has created a photo library that represents Kentuckians of all kinds.

The Photo Library Fund for Excellence Project had one main goal: to create an accurate and diverse collection of stock photos that highlight disability representation.

“There are existing stock photos already, but many are fake, inaccurate, tokenizing and misrepresentative of people with disabilities. We wanted to work with people with disabilities to create accurate, unique, integrated and appropriately representative photos of people with disabilities,” said Haley Potter, an administrative research assistant at HDI who spearheaded the effort. 

Potter applied for internal funding to get the project off the ground and served as project director. She spread the word about the opportunity, working with student organizations on campus, Central Kentucky advocacy networks and other disability-related organizations in Lexington to ensure inclusion.

“Representation has such an impact. It includes a lot more than people might think — race, ethnicity, gender expression and identity, disability status, body type and size, age, hairstyles, the way someone dresses, how someone interacts with others and everything about someone. Having that visual representation of someone can empower a person,” said Potter. 

HDI Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Nicholas Wright, Ph.D., helped Potter curate the promotional language for the project to extend the reach and include as many people and communities as possible.

“This initiative to capture human experiences and perspectives is vital to our work in diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. By authentically representing our diverse world in photographs, we are dismantling stereotypes and highlighting that representation matters. When people notice their own identity reflected in these images, they feel validated and included which increases sense of belonging. This work accurately displays our commitment to social justice and the way we celebrate the diversity of humanity,” said Wright.

Kentuckians representing cities across the Commonwealth, from Bowling Green to Ashland and many in between, served as models for five photo shoots at locations in Lexington including UK’s Jacobs Science Building, ImpactLex, Lightbox Studio and Shillito Park. All were paid to participate in a one-hour photo shoot.

HDI colleagues Kari Batts, Adam Potter and Eric Seale were the photographers for the photo shoots.

“Adam told me multiple people expressed feelings of self-empowerment, happiness and strength. To me, that means I did my job. If we made one person feel good in their body, then the project would have been successful. But the fact that we impacted 50 people and curated over one thousand photographs is amazing,” said Potter.

The photos have a Creative Commons license, meaning they are free to use instead of requiring a license or purchase — no photo credit required.

“We wanted to break that barrier down for organizations that may not be able to afford stock photographs,” said Potter. “Plus, copyright laws are difficult to understand. It’s incredibly easy for someone to make a mistake in attribution, so we wanted to avoid that confusion as much as possible by making our photographs available under the public domain.”

Potter hopes to expand this project and add stock photos in other environments like a medical setting, restaurant or public library.

Photos are available here. Anyone with questions can contact Haley Potter at

As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.   

In 2022, UK was ranked by Forbes as one of the “Best Employers for New Grads” and named a “Diversity Champion” by INSIGHT into Diversity, a testament to our commitment to advance Kentucky and create a community of belonging for everyone. While our mission looks different in many ways than it did in 1865, the vision of service to our Commonwealth and the world remains the same. We are the University for Kentucky.