AI Image Contest Draws Striking Entries

AI image by Srivats Shankar

We recently asked to see disability-related images you created using the mind-blowing advancements in artificial intelligence. We got the idea when Pete Aviles, a paraplegic business owner and designer, sent us some of his creations on the platform Midjourney. “You can make visionary art, or you can make it look like a real photograph,” he says, noting that one of the biggest issues has been generating realistic wheelchairs. But AI has “learned” a lot in a few short months. “Now more of the wheelchairs actually do look right,” he says.

While Aviles has found AI to be a boon to his creativity, some disabled artists who saw our call for entries were offended by the suggestion that AI images are “art.”

“AI generated ‘art’ is theft,” says Rus Wooton, a C6 quad whose cartoons and illustrations were featured in United Spinal’s previous member magazine, Life in Action. “These apps steal art from actual human artists , then mash it together to create these images,” he says.

AI image by Kary Pearson

AI image generators pull imagery from a vast number of online sources, and it’s true that some images may be copyrighted. In artforms remixed by humans — such as collage and hip hop sampling — legal experts have struggled for years to define the line between violating intellectual property rights and creating a piece that is so altered that it is considered new work. AI complicates this conversation greatly.

“It amazes me the kind of power and ease that this technology has brought to generating images — it’s like science fiction,” says Srivats Shankar, who entered the contest but acknowledges that the use of AI raises questions about attribution and compensation. “I do hope it supplements the works of existing artists and authors rather than taking away from them.”

Kary Pearson, another contest entrant, adds: “I know that AI and intellectual property and art styles is a hot topic, but AI has helped me get back into art after becoming disabled. I’m so grateful for that. Also, I think that a misconception about AI art is that it doesn’t require effort. While you can roll the dice with a basic prompt and see what you get, you can also have a picture in your mind and put a lot of consideration into your description for the prompts.”

AI image by Akua Lezli Hope

“I love, love love this invitation to remake the world,” say contestant Akua Lezli Hope. “To envision and have images I’ve never seen of empowerment, energy and joy — I am lifted to just behold these images. Thank you for creating this occasion to dream.”

So what is NM’s bottom line? We think AI image generation has potential to be used responsibly by disabled content creators — another tool in the toolbox — but we don’t see it replacing art that taps into the authentic human experience of individuals. And ultimately, that’s what we want to see in New Mobility. Submit your non-AI work here.


Srivats Shankar, AI platform: DALL-E 2

I based the prompts for each of the images on feelings and thoughts I have had about what living life with a disability is like — especially about the people and things that are important to me. Some of the things that went through my mind were spending time with my family and friends, how my wheelchair and technology makes so much of my life possible, and the feeling that living in an accessible environment brings. The goal was to take these ideas and convert them to a form of expression that through the color and contrast could embody a sense of the beauties and difficulties of living with a disability. To that end I feel these images have been able to encompass these feelings in a unique way that feels like art but is something else.

I hope that this technology evolves from being a simple prompt-based form of image generation to one that builds upon tools like Photoshop, so that artists can continue to use the tools that they have always used but the AI can add an additional layer of “polish” to the artwork. I believe that this would greatly benefit all types of artists, particularly artists with disabilities who have trouble using certain types of tools.


Akua Lezli Hope, AI platform: Midjourney

I am paraplegic, an African American, an Afrofuturist, a creator who dreams daily of a better life while struggling to create through pain without assistance in a place with no paratransit or support. I go hungry when the aide doesn’t do her once a week shopping visit. So imagining beauty, energy, agency, in a wheelchair-enabled body has been so affirming. I couldn’t play my tenor sax in my wheelchair and was profoundly depressed for years because of all the things I loved that I could no longer do. Then I bought an alto sax, but it too became too hard to play in the wheelchair. Now I’m working on my embouchure for a new soprano sax. The sunflowers and blue are a shout-out to Ukraine, because Ukrainian crochet designers inspired me, taught me and informed my crochet design, which was my journey back to an engaged and fulfilling art practice after becoming paralyzed. I miss gardening and love plants. I’ve tried for over a decade to create a raised bed space to garden. I am limited to pots. So the regal woman in my favorite color surrounded by lush foliage speaks to my longing and reminds me to sit up straight.


Kary Pearson, AI platform: DALL-E

The stained glass woman is a reflection of me in that I feel like I’m learning to piece my life back together similar to how broken pieces of glass are joined together to create something new, and even beautiful. She is supported by her wheelchair, and even though she is fragile she can still move forward. “Vitruvian Man in Wheelchair” is also meaningful to me. In my previous life I was an artist, and I’ve noticed how few depictions of disability exist in art. I believe that disability representation should be in all facets of life, but art tends to last, that’s why we still look at da Vinci’s work. Maybe if art starts to represent disabilities, it will help break stigmas.


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