Videos and photos go viral all the time in this day and age, but this image of a young boy in a wheelchair broke his mom’s heart and gave the world something to think about. And sometimes, when the image is so funny or exciting or moving, it can bring celebrity to ordinary people, whether they were seeking it or not.
Just such a thing happened when, on June 14, 2013, the Canadian publication The Province published a photo of eight-year-old Miles Ambridge, who has spinal muscular atrophy, and his grade 1 and 2 elementary school class. In many ways an ordinary class photo, what made Miles stand out is that he is set off to the side in his wheelchair and leaning right, straining to be included with the rest of his classmates, but wearing a large smile nevertheless.
To say the image went viral is an understatement. It was picked up by news and media outlets worldwide, from the Toronto Star to the UK’s Daily Mail, to NBC’s Today Show. An estimated 4-5 million or more people read the original story online.
Says Miles’ father Don, “I can’t even describe [seeing the photo]. It was a punch in the gut. It was nauseating.”
Yet the photo certainly generated a positive response, according to Don, who says that it raised awareness about the insensitive treatment towards people with disabilities. “For me,” Don says, “it was just great how much people came out of the woodwork in support. [Miles] got a Superman shirt, handwritten letters. I got money in the mail from Alaska. It just showed how much people do care.”
The photographer chose to leave her job soon after the story first hit the Internet, and the Canadian staff of the photography company wanted to apologize, though Kevin Miller, spokesperson for the company, doesn’t feel that apologies are necessary.
“I told them I didn’t want them to apologize,” he says. “This was a regrettable incident but it wasn’t intentional. It was an inadvertent placement of children that appeared to be ostracizing. When you apologize, you’re always implying that you did something wrong.”
He goes on to say, “The mom and the reporter looked at the situation with the worst possible attitude,” and he feels that the parents should have brought the matter to the company’s attention rather than to the media’s, classifying the situation as anomalous.
One thing is certain—Miles achieved a level of fame from the photo that neither he nor his parents expected.
“We get recognized at the Lego store, on the SkyTrain, pretty much everywhere,” Don says. “The fellow on the SkyTrain, he was in a wheelchair himself, and he was completely onside with what we did. Usually I get a little tug on the elbow: ‘is that the boy from the photo?'”
It is! You’ll be happy to know the class photo has been retaken! What would you like to say to the photography company’s spokesperson who didn’t want to apologize? Did Miles’ parents overreact?