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Olga Starr Highlights Accomplishments of Kids With Disabilities in New Photo Series

We’ve all seen the bumper stickers, “Proud parent of an honor roll student.” But your child doesn’t have to be a straight-A student for their achievements to be deemed exceptional. That is the point photographer Olga Starr wants to make with her new photo series – “Small Steps, Giant Leaps” – which highlights the accomplishments of young people with disabilities.

“As a mom of both ‘special-needs’ and ‘typical’ children, I have struggled with definitions of success,” Starr told The Mighty. “I have been learning, instead of defining it in relation to arbitrary milestones or in comparison to others, to redefine success as something that is relative to where you start, what you persevere through and what you overcome.”

Photograph of young boy, Lucas

This way of thinking is easier said than done, Starr said, noting the achievement-oriented culture many parents raise their children in. To help parents highlight the strides their children have made, Starr is capturing each moment on film. So far, she’s photographed over 10 children, some with rare conditions like Rett syndrome, others who are on the autism spectrum, as well as children facing cancer. Accomplishments range from walking up the porch steps to completing puzzles to participating in gymnastics.

Photograph of Kayleigh doing a handstand

Starr’s first portraits were of Abby, the 14-year-old daughter of a close friend. Starr was inspired by Abby, who has Rett syndrome, after seeing a video on social media of Abby walking to her school bus and up the bus steps on her own. “This was such a source of joy and pride for Abby’s family, and it was up there on social media among the honor roll letters, college acceptances, and travel soccer trophies,” Starr said. “I wanted to spread the message that kids and young adults with disabilities and special challenges deserve to be recognized and honored for achieving their goals – goals that seem like small steps for those without special needs, but for these children are actually giant leaps.”

Photograph of Abby

Now, Starr, who works in the New York City and New Jersey areas, wants to expand the project to include more families and milestones. She is also looking to feature more children with invisible illnesses. “When a child’s special needs are invisible, it is all the more difficult for others to see how that child’s small steps might actually be giant leaps in the face of his or her challenges,” she said.

Photograph of a boy, Jack, holding up a drawing

“I would love for everyone to know that people with disabilities have goals and are driven to achieve, just like everyone else,” Starr told The Mighty. “Their goals may be different, but the achievement of those goals is worthy of acknowledging and celebrating. We can all support parents of children with special needs by recognizing that their children are working hard in the face of many obstacles to achieve their own particular goals.”