New Food Pyramid Misses Mark for People with Disabilities
The new food guide pyramid recently published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture is in danger of missing its mark for people with disabilities. While it is wonderful to see exercise added to this much-needed revision, the representation of an individual walking up a flight of stairs as a symbol for increasing physical activity fosters the perception that everyone can walk, and more precisely, that everyone can walk up stairs. These presumptions are incorrect for millions of people with disabilities, including those unable to walk due to some form of weakness or paralysis, those who may have significant orthopedic problems such as back, hip, or knee pain, or those who are unable to handle steps because of difficulty with maintaining balance. Many older adults consider steps an anathema and use ramps whenever possible to enter and exit buildings.
|The new My Pyramid, with steps, can be perceived to be steep and inaccessible for wheelchair users and others with disabilities.|
The individual responsible for recommending an image of someone walking up a flight of steps is most likely healthy, in his or her mid-40s or early 50s, and is able to climb steps easily. If there would have been someone on this committee representing the disability community, I am sure that he or she most likely would have suggested a more inclusive image. How difficult would it have been to produce an image of a wheelchair user wheeling or rolling alongside a stroller? Such a wonderfully inclusive image would have captured the hearts and minds of the more than 50 million Americans with disabilities and the millions more who have difficulty walking up stairs. There is already a gross misconception that people with disabilities don't want to exercise or can't exercise - let's not fuel the flames with ignorance.
|NCPAD's alternative accessible pyramid has a gentle incline and ramp for wheelchair users and others who find ramps much easier to walk up and down than steps.|
Perhaps I am taking this a bit too far - or perhaps not. How important is an image in terms of changing a behavior? It's a difficult question to answer, but most social marketing experts would agree that a picture is worth a thousand words and does in fact leave a subliminal imprint on our cortexes. Just look at the infamous Nike commercials. There are probably very few young people in this country who do not know which company the "swoosh" represents. But among older adults, to whom Nike intentionally does not target its products (How many older adults are willing to pay $150 for a pair of sneakers?), the symbol probably doesn't hold the same meaning.
The new food pyramid has been labeled, "My Pyramid," but I'm not so sure that many people with disabilities will consider it to truly be "their pyramid." Sure, it's only an image intending to represent physical activity, but why not illustrate something more inclusive such as a ramp that everyone can walk up and down, or a combined image of a ramp and set of steps so that the underlying message isn't lost? Images do matter a great deal, and this one needs to be rethought or redrawn in a way that includes people with disabilities.