While the depiction of people with disabilities in the media is improving and increasing, we still have a long way to go. There’s still a high level of discomfort among the public when it comes to images of people with disabilities. There could be many reasons for this sort of visceral reaction, but in the end, there is a way to fix it: exposure and increased awareness. We need more real-world, accurate depictions of people with disabilities in film, television, games, and other media, including advertisements.
One mom, who’s also a photographer, hopes to be an agent of change, erasing the fear and discomfort society feels about people with disabilities. Katie Driscoll’s four-year-old daughter Grace was born with Down syndrome, and Katie dealt with a lot of shock and fear because of it, but this fear quickly turned to pride and celebration.
“I thought people would feel sorry for me because she had Down syndrome and because she was my only girl,” said Driscoll, 39, who also has five sons. “I was absolutely proud that I had a daughter, regardless of her abilities. I wanted to celebrate the fact that I did have a daughter.”
She began photographing Grace and reached out to local businesses to see if there might be interest in using a child with a disability in ads. She got what she describes as a “fantastic response,” and she made her photos available for use on her blog, where businesses picked up on the offer and used the images in their ads.
One of the local business owners, Steve English, also has a child with a disability and, in 2012, he supported Katie in an online gallery called Changing the Face of Beauty. The gallery highlights child and young-adult models with disabilities who are available for ad campaigns. Katie reaches out to companies and encourages them to check out the gallery, pointing out that “these people are part of our society and, unfortunately, in the advertising and media world, they’re kind of forgotten.”
She goes on to say, “We are influenced by imagery. The more people are exposed to individuals that might be deemed different, the more comfortable they will be and more opportunity will open up for all people living with a disability.”
Katie says her real aim is to increase awareness, remove fear, and improve opportunities for people with disabilities. She wants to convey the message that, while they face difficulties, people with disabilities are often capable of as much, and sometimes more, than people without disabilities.
After putting out an open call for parents to submit professional photos to the site, Katie and Steve received an overwhelming response with photos from all over the world, and as of now, around 30 of the children and young adults on the site have been featured in ads. Most of these ads have been for smaller clothing companies and digital ads, but the hope is that, as the project catches on, there will be broader modeling opportunities.
Steve says he hopes getting more children with disabilities in ads will achieve understanding, “so people become accustomed to seeing them, and they’re not hidden in the corner.” What’s your take on this initiative?