Have you seen the GapKids ad promoting the company's Class of 2014 photo contest?
It's a short promo featuring a group of kids getting ready for their class photo. The last few seconds show one of those kids in her wheelchair.
Anchel Krishna, mom of a toddler with cerebral palsy (CP), wrote an article about how she thinks the ad is a great example of inclusion. I agree, but think it's also another way for parents to teach kids about disabilities.
My sister has CP, and I can tell you that we didn't have commercials featuring disabled kids when we were watching TV growing up. When I see everything available to special needs kids and their families today, it warms my heart.
My sister, parents and I had to enter restaurants through the back kitchen entrances because the regular ones didn't have ramps. Forget about playing on new equipment — playgrounds weren't accessible. Kids (who didn't know any better) would point and stare. Adults (who should have known better) would ask to be moved to a different table in a restaurant rather than watch my sister be fed. Other adults would pity us and tell us how they would pray for us which was annoying and uncomfortable for my family. I'm thankful that my kids are growing up at a time when they see disabled kids playing on the same playground and that they have an appreciation for differences because of their close relationship with my sister.
So, I think the ad — and anytime a child with a disability is included as just one of the gang — is awesome. However, I don't think positive portrayals like this mean we shouldn't talk openly about disabilities or stop answering questions kids will have. Blink and you'll probably miss the girl in the wheelchair in the GapKids ad, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. Isn't that part of what inclusion is all about?
The other night I was driving one of my son’s friends home when my sister called me. I answered, talked for a minute and told her I’d call her back. When I hung up, I said to the friend, "That was my sister. She was born with a disability so that’s why she talks slowly." The friend asked me questions like, "Do you understand her?" and I said, "Yes, most of the time but if I don't, I ask her to repeat what she says or try to say it in a different way." His response? "Cool." My guess is if he saw the ad, that word would be his reaction, too.
Whether you're parenting a child with a disability, or just another parent watching a cute ad to sell clothes that just happens to include a kid in a wheelchair, remember it's ok for your child to ask questions. It's ok for them to wonder about what's wrong. It's a tool for a teachable moment about the beauty of differences.
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