"Dear Target, I love you," Jen Spickenagel Kroll wrote after seeing Target's progressive Halloween children's costume ad that meant so much to her young daughter. Kroll went on to explain why Target's unprecedented ad was especially meaningful to her family: This was one of the rare times a major retailer had included a child of a different ability in its advertising campaign. The little girl wearing the ever-popular Elsa costume in the ad has braces and arm crutches, like Kroll's daughter, who has arm crutches and prosthetic legs.
Kroll's youngest daughter, Jerrensia, came into the family from Haiti at 14 months old with a medical diagnosis similar to the condition arthrogryposis multiplex congenita. Because of this, Jerrensia had issues with her joints and hip sockets and lacked muscle tone in her legs. After several years of intense physical therapy, the family made the difficult decision to amputate Jerrensia's legs and use prosthetics. Now an active 5-year-old, Jerrensia is part of the "special needs subculture" her mother was so excited to see acknowledged in Target's ad.
If you're wondering what the big deal is about including a child with special needs in a mainstream advertisement, Kroll sums it up perfectly: "Normalizing disabilities in children is priceless."
Kroll is coming from a place of a parent who has a child with disabilities, and she's absolutely right. Considering that there are almost no Halloween costumes marketed to children with different abilities, including kids in wheelchairs or with prosthetic legs, seeing a child with arm braces in a Halloween ad is revolutionary.
For parents of children who may not have a child with a disability, this ad matters just as much. Like Kroll said, giving every child the opportunity to see children with different ability levels represented by the media, side by side, is priceless. Normalizing special needs is one of the best ways to teach inclusion.
It's 2015, and we're finally seeing more of this inclusive message in the media. This year, fashion history was made when an 18-year-old model with Down syndrome walked the runway at New York Fashion Week, and in the same year, a 2-year-old with Down syndrome signed a modeling contract. Sesame Street finally has a character with autism, and parents want more. It's no wonder Kroll's post was shared almost 6,000 times in a few days and is gaining national attention — intuitively we know this is a message all our children need to hear, as often as possible.
Seeing a child with disabilities in the spotlight means the world to a child who can identify, like Jerrensia. And for other kids without disabilities, like Jerrensia's brothers and sisters, who were elated to see a child with crutches in the ad, the message is just as powerful. As Kroll reminds us, perfection is a mainstream value that is at odds with teaching self-acceptance to our kids. When any child sees other kids who are often branded "different" included by the media, we're halfway there — acceptance is a natural byproduct of inclusion.
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