A Facebook friend recently shared a photo from Gap’s page, with the messaage “LOVE!” At first glance, I didn’t get what was so great about the photo. It seemed like the usual ad fodder: a bunch of cute kids looking their best in a back-to-school pic. Then I noticed the girl in the second row. She was in a wheelchair. And suddenly, the photo went from merely cute to all sorts of awesome. Gap titled the photo “A lesson in style” but really, it was a lesson in inclusion.
Increasingly, we’re seeing kids with disabilities in advertising, including a child with Down syndrome in a Care.com TV commercial and other children with disabilities in Target circulars and Nordstrom catalogs. A couple of years ago, I was psyched to see a girl in a wheelchair in a Girl Scouts catalog. The thing is, the very fact that parents like me who have kids with special needs get so excited about seeing these ads tells you one thing: These ads are not the norm.
It is still rare for children with disabilities to be organically included in advertising, especially on TV. And it’s still uncommon to see them in TV programs, too. Photographer Katie Driscoll, a mom of six who has a four-year-old with Down syndrome, was so tired of not seeing kids like her daughter in advertising that she created Changing the Face of Beauty to integrate people with disabilities into ads. In fact, this past fall she did her own back-to-school photo shoot featuring Grace.
By this point, most companies in this country are well aware of the need for diversity in ads. Thing is, diversity to them tends to mean one thing — a variety of races — whereas for special needs parents, diversity also means featuring kids with disabilities. Our children are every bit as adorable as other kids, and their wheelchairs, crutches, foot braces, eyeglasses, or even eye shape should not detract from their appeal. Cute kids are cute kids, period.
Wishing for more kids with special needs in ads isn’t just about finding ways for my son, Max, who has cerebral palsy, to be more accepted by people. This is also about a world in which Max sees himself. I would be so bummed if he ever one day asked me why there are no kids with CP on TV. I want him to feel like a part of culture in every which way — including clothing store ads. (Although I will be perfectly content if no person with disabilities ever appears in a Booty Pap panties informercial.)
To be sure, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and many people out there can only see the disability when they look at a child with special needs, as I know all too well from raising Max. People stare at his limp. They notice that his face sometimes contorts from muscle spasms. They pity him and think of him as being different instead of seeing that Max likes to have fun, play, explore, laugh, love. You know, like children do.
The more people see kids with disabilities in ads and TV programs, the more they’ll come to see them as kids like any other.