Photographer Creates Back-to-School Ads Featuring Kids with Disabilities

back-to-school ads

When my older daughter was much younger, I remarked to another mom how lucky I felt because she was such an easy baby.

“God only gives us what we can handle,” the woman said.

It took me a second to realize that was a dig.

Another mom I know who has a son with severe autism along with other physical and mental delays also hates when people say that to her. All moms do what they can do — is one necessarily stronger than another simply for doing her job? Sure, maybe some do it with more aplomb, humor or energy, but we have kids knowing we’ll need to care for them, no matter the circumstances, and isn’t that what most of us do?

back-to-school ads

That being said, some moms do seem capable of more (than me, anyway). Take Katie Driscoll. She’s an Illinois-based photographer and mom of six kids. (Right there — bam! Six kids? Hats off, Katie.) She was looking at catalogs and back-to-school ads (blech, by the way) and noticed that no kid featured in them looked like her little Grace, 4, who has Down syndrome, not to mention many other kids who might look a bit different. So, according to ABC News, she decided to do her own back-to-school photo shoot (again, Katie, wow. Because if I can manage to wrangle my kids for a single measly back-to-school photo, I’ll pat myself on the back).

Driscoll, who owns 5 Boys + 1 Girl = 6 Photography, put out a casting call that would enable her to “represent all children returning to school.”

“Obviously, you can’t include every diagnosis,” she said. “But I wanted people to see differences because it’s important.”

back-to-school ads

Earlier this month, Driscoll gathered the kids at a bookstore in Chicago and took what, at first glance, seems to be ordinary back-to-school photos of kids wearing shiny new clothes and tricked-out backpacks. Upon closer inspection, however, there’s more color on some of the kids’ skin and more nonconforming features on their faces and bodies than you’d generally see in similar, mainstream photos.

It’s not the first time Driscoll has attempted to inject some diversity — and not just people of color — in advertising.

back-to-school ads

Three years ago, Driscoll put her money where her mouth (and camera) is, launching Changing the Face of Beauty, which sought to “integrate individuals with disabilities into general advertising” with a goal that “all people will be represented all the time.”

“Children with disabilities is one of the largest minorities,” she said. “So why don’t we include them when casting for ads?”

back-to-school ads

When I read about a mom and professional like Driscoll, it’s not that I necessarily think God gave her more than I or any other mom could handle; it’s just that I think she’s exceptional on more than a few levels as a mom and photographer — and she handles and gives more than most people. To give families with differently abled kids the gift of showing their kids that they’re not alone is extraordinary.

back-to-school ads

And for a family like mine, whose kids blend in and see faces, features, abilities and bodies like their own everywhere we go, it’s a gift, too. That’s because it’s not always easy to teach kids to realize that what they have, look, and feel like is something not to be taken for granted. Getting a glimpse at kids who might have different features but doing familiar activities is a great tool to help them realize physical, mental, and health differences don’t necessarily define us. Driscoll’s back-to-school ads aid in the appreciation and celebration of the diversity all around us, which is something many of us, not just our kids, could probably do well by remembering more often.

Photo credits: Katie Driscoll/5 Boys + 1 Girl = 6 Photography


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