Through portrait and event photography, and educational classes, adaptive photographer Elizabeth Rajchart advocates for people with disabilities.
“Disabled” isn’t a bad word. Not to adaptive photographer Elizabeth Rajchart, anyway. It’s part of her identity and the identity of the people she photographs. Her portfolio includes people at their most vulnerable, their most real. There are people with Down Syndrome practicing yoga. Wheelchair users sharing intimate, passionate moments with their partners. People with feeding tubes lying next to a loved one, caught in sheets and whispers.
Queer disabled love, inter-abled couples, adaptive fashion, disabled talent—Rajchart captures it all.
“I love that I get to show everyone’s beauty,” Rajchart says. “I love seeing the faces of people who have never been authentically shown. They finally get to see photos of their true selves.”
For Rajchart, representation matters. It’s why she celebrates people who must adapt to a world that isn’t always designed to accommodate them. Rajchart, who uses a wheelchair, has also had to adapt.
Back when she photographed drag performances, she was known for being “all over the place—under tables, hanging off the edge of the stage.” These days, when shooting performances and other events, she will ask for different seating or have the opportunity to shoot from the wings.
“I have a limited point of view but, because of that, I’ve become so much more creative,” Rajchart says. “My resourcefulness has bloomed, and I feel more connected to my art. It feels like I’m not just doing something, but producing something.”
In addition to drag performances, professional adaptive dance teams, major stadium tours, professional theater companies, and awards shows, Rajchart specializes in adaptive fashion and athletics.
Her work has appeared in numerous publications about disability, including New Mobility magazine, as well as marketing for adaptive products and mobility aids. As busy as she is, Rajchart hopes The Create Fund will provide her with even more opportunities to produce art.
“There are some big brands I want to work with, but I also want to keep working with disability-owned companies, especially smaller ones,” she says. “Some places only show physical disabilities. I like showing all types of disability in the work environment.”
In addition to being a photographer, Rajchart works as an advocate, activist, and public speaker. She uses the skills she developed as a child to teach others how to self-advocate. Many of her classes frame disability as an asset, rather than a hindrance.
“It’s not our impairment that disables us as much as it is our environment,” Rajchart says. “Disability doesn’t discriminate, and the accommodations you need are the accommodates you deserve. You do whatever you need to be able to exist in the world.”
Shutterstock: How did you get your start in photography?
Elizabeth Rajchart: Around 2015, I was homebound due to a chronic illness. That’s when I started learning more about photography, which I had always loved.
I got better and better, and eventually a friend invited me to a drag show and said, “Bring your camera.” I spent the next year pretty much being a drag photographer.
In 2019, I realized there was a need for disability representation. I have always had a passion for my community, the disability community, and it’s awesome that I get to make my two biggest passions work together.
SSTK: How did your childhood influence your work?
Rajchart: I have been disabled my whole life, though not always physically disabled. I grew up as a neurodivergent child, which was really difficult.
As my mental diagnosis changed, I educated my teachers on how to work with students with mental health challenges. I also taught my teachers at my middle school.
After that, I started teaching crisis intervention and starting speaking more publicly about disability. It’s always been something I’ve been passionate about.
SSTK: You’re both a photographer and an educator. What do you teach people?
Rajchart: I teach a few different things. There’s the social model of disability, which says it’s not our impairments that disable us as much as it is our environment. I want people, especially people in the medical industry, to see disability as an asset, not a hindrance.
You’ll also see a lot of disability boards that don’t have people with disabilities on them—as if disabled people aren’t considered experts of their own lives. But we know what needs to be changed.
For example, making parking symbols look more inclusive is not going to change our lives. Making sidewalks more accessible will.
SSTK: How has The Create Fund benefited you?
Rajchart: Shutterstock has been awesome. They’ve connected me to people I wouldn’t have known otherwise and have created opportunities I didn’t see coming.
I’m really grateful for that, for them. I’m hoping it keeps my main passion going—bringing representation to the forefront.
SSTK: What has The Create Fund taught you about society?
Rajchart: Society often tells people, especially people who are disabled, who or what they are. We all want to announce ourselves to the world, though, and that’s what I hope my photography does.
Photography gives people the ability to present themselves to society in the way they want to, not the way they’re told to. We want to see ourselves represented in society.
Representation led by being represented is extremely important. When we don’t see ourselves represented in society, it’s like being told we don’t deserve to exist.
SSTK: As a wheelchair user, how have you had to adapt as a photographer?
Rajchart: When I was a drag photographer, I was known for being all over the place—under tables, hanging from things. There’s actually a photo of me at a bachelorette party, where I’m under the table, shooting at the stage.
Because I have a limited perspective, I’ve become so much more creative. When you don’t have as many options, you have to get creative and resourceful. It makes me feel more connected to my art.
My art isn’t something I’m doing; it’s something I’m producing.
SSTK: Where do you find inspiration?
Rajchart: I’m inspired by my community. Really, that’s what it comes down to. I’m inspired when I see disabled actors, disabled dancers, the way we move. The way we are so unique and so resourceful.
I remember seeing Selma Blair on the red carpet with her cane for the first time, and it was an incredible feeling. She looked elegant and beautiful and she was not ashamed of who she was.
SSTK: What would you say to a fellow creative who has a disability but is afraid to put their work “out there?”
Rajchart: There is a need for your voice and a need for your talents. The path to where you want to be may not be easy, but you will find support and you will find people who will benefit from seeing things from your perspective.
SSTK: What do you find rewarding about being a photographer?
Rajchart: I have images of two women in wheelchairs and images of two people in bed, holding hands, with a feeding tube visible. It’s . . . very real, and some models have told me this is the first time they’ve seen themselves represented this way.
Representation is the coolest thing to give someone. I want people to feel seen because not feeling seen is like saying, “You don’t belong here.” I really hope people see my work, see themselves in it, and feel empowered. I want everyone to feel valued.
SSTK: What’s next for you?
Rajchart: I’m about to launch some classes for adults with disabilities that address dating, relationships, and sexual education. I’m super excited about it.
I don’t know why people seem to think that people with disabilities don’t have the same wants, needs, and desires as everyone else.
Everyone wants to love and be loved, and everyone deserves an equal chance at that.
License this cover image via Elizabeth Rajchart.