I Couldn’t Find a ‘Back to School’ Ad That Included Kids With Disabilities… So I Made My Own

A month ago as I was driving across state borders with my children, I felt butterflies in my stomach as thoughts of lunch boxes, school clothing and shoes were flashing through my mind. All the anxiety of a new school year, school supplies and to do lists were creeping in. I then thought about the children who learn differently or have a different ability than the rest of the school children and the worry those children and their parents must be feeling as they begin to prepare for yet another year.

We all know how it feels to be standing in our local shopping mall or surfing our favorite boutique online while asking ourselves what product, sweater, coat or pair of shoes will help our child fit in just a little better this year. This is a concern for all of us. We all want our children to stand out in a positive way. We want them to be recognized for their strengths. We definitely do not want our child to be “that child.” You are following me, right?

My stomach is turning just typing this out. It is tough to talk about even the possibility of our child or any child being “that child.” The one who is not noticed in the hallway, the one that has no one to sit by at lunch. The one that children are scared of. “That child.”

Although there are many great stories of children with different abilities  having successful school careers there are that many more of children who fall into the category of “that child.” As I thought about this of course my mind went directly to our advertising world. What are we communicating to our new students and parents each year? What are we looking at as we scroll through websites searching for the perfect first day of school outfit?

Well, I ran a search in my email. Just a “Back to School” search and because I am a professional online shopper, I knew I would pull up at least 20 “Back to School” ads that were directly emailed to me. So I scrolled through the beautiful imagery and you know what? I didn’t see anyone that resembled my daughter. Not one model in close to 50 ads included one child with a disability. Not one.

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Am I mad? No. Were conscious decisions made while casting the models to represent these back to school brands? YES! We need a blonde, brown and red haired child. We need a boy and girl. We need a minority. But you know what? They need a child with a disability too. It doesn’t matter what disability, but they need to represent the largest minority in the world. We need to see a child with Down syndrome or a child who needs help walking or uses a wheelchair. We need children that represent differences. I firmly believe that the thought of using a child with a disability never even made it to the table. Never even entered the planning conversation. They were forgotten.

Our media and advertising defines what is important in our world. They dictate who looks good, hair styles and the most fashionable shoes.  They are the ones who give us the heads up when skinny jeans are the way to go. They tell our youth who matters.

So where am I going with this piece?  I did just that! I casted my own models, and I too made conscious decisions when deciding who would be a good fit for my own back to school images. When given the opportunity children blend together perfectly. The exciting part was reaching out to children’s clothing lines. I am extremely thankful to RUUMSEAM CollectionCHOOZEThe Good Ones and Tea Collection for believing in my idea. They partnered with me and clothed these gorgeous kids to show the world how amazing all kids of all abilities look when captured together!

Go ahead and judge for yourself!

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Here is a little behind the scenes action. This video shows you that there really isn’t anything extra needed to include children of all abilities. They just need the opportunity.

So as we enter the 2014-15 school year think about all the children returning to school. Choose brands as you are shopping that believe in the same things you do. You have a choice and the only way advertising changes is if you show them what is important to you. Talk about differences and encourage your child to go the extra mile. Ask them to be the one who encourages a child who is feeling defeated, to lend a hand when a classmate is struggling and to make a friend with a peer who doesn’t have any. Let’s make this year about working together, building each other up and sharing in the celebration of learning! Isn’t this what advertising should be about?

Encourage our children to #BeUrAmazingSelf and to #choosekind.

OX Katie

This post originally appeared on 5 Boys + 1 Girl = 6.

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