Ads With Kids Who Have Special Needs: More, Please!

Last week, Target got major props from parentsthe media and people in general for including a boy with Down syndrome in a recent ad; even ever-cynical Jezebel was awed. Acually, this isn’t the first time Target has done this—the company featured a girl with Down syndrome in a July back-to-school ad:

A Google search reveals that a girl with DS was in a March 2010 ad. There may well be more older ones, along with other kids with disabilities in current Target ads—special needs are not always visible (or “special powers,” as I like to say).

Target deserves the kudos. What they’ve done is breakthrough; the vast majority of retail companies don’t have kids with disabilities in their advertisements. Hopefully, they’ll follow Target’s lead.

As a mom to a child with cerebral palsy, seeing kids with special needs in ads is bliss-inducing (trust me, I don’t usually squeal “Woo hoo!” when I flip through the Sunday sales circulars). I think I speak for many parents when I say how disheartening it is that people often view our kids as different, so very different, than other kids. It’s just plain awesome to come upon a child with disabilities modeling clothes or touting toys, just like any other adorable child model.

This is what parents of kids with special needs yearn for: inclusion. For others to see that our kids belong, whether in an ad, in school, in sports or wherever. For us to feel that our kids belong. Ads like these don’t just make a statement about inclusion; they get the conversation going.

Yet as awesome as the Target ads are, they’re a start, not a turning point. Here’s what I think will really break down barriers:

Diversity. I’d like to see a variety of special needs represented in ads. How about kids with cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy? Kids with cleft palates and other birth defects? Kids in wheelchairs and walkers? Kids with seeing-eye dogs? (Think about it, ad people: dog + cute child = a winning combo, if ever there was one). Target does a great job including a mix of Caucasian, African American, Hispanic and Asian kids in their ads; it would make good sense to include a mix of disabilities, too. And, hey, I have just the kid in mind!

OK, he’s my son, but still….

• More, more, more. I don’t want to see one kid with Down syndrome in a flyer; I want to see a bunch! When and if more kids with special needs are featured in circulars and catalogs, people will quit thinking companies are doing it to gain attention for themselves or because it’s the “right” thing to do. One child with special needs among a group of child models seems like a token; a few kids with special needs would seem like a norm.

Let’s make it a regular thing. Research conducted in my trusty recycling bin indicates that there were no kids with Down syndrome in Target’s December circulars or, to date, their January ones. Why not feature kids with special needs every week? There’s no lack of cute ones, given that our kids are not the least bit cute-challenged.

And how about TV?  I can’t recall any recent television commercial including a kid with special needs. That would be breakthrough. There’s an ’80s McDonald’s commercial about two best friends, one of whom is a wheelchair. Go on, McD’s, make another ad like that… and then make a dozen more.

Media, get a grip. The headline of an Adweek piece proclaimed “Boy with Down Syndrome Becoming An Unlikely Ad Star.” Yep, it’s true that it’s rare for an ad to feature a child with special needs. Thing is, headlines like that make it seem it’s a downright miracle that a kid with DS is in an ad, and belittle our kids. To parents of kids with special needs, it is not at all surprising that our kids can be stars; they already arein our eyes.

Kudos again to Target. This greedy parent is hoping to see a lot more of our kids in their ads, and in other companies’ as well. And I won’t be satisfied until ads featuring kids with special needs stop making headlines. Because that would mean it’s become standard practice—and not a special thing.

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  1. by Galen

    On January 9, 2012 at 1:37 pm

    Actually back in the early 90s, a lot of retailers were including children with disabilities in their ads, mostly kids with visible physical disabilities such as CP and spina bifida. A local ad agency in Dallas was actively recruiting models at the time. Then, for some reason, the trend fizzled out. I’m happy that the ad agencies are bringing it back and I’m sure that positive feedback such as yours will encourage them to do so.

  2. by Nightmarehippiegirl

    On January 9, 2012 at 2:41 pm

    Do you suppose this is their way of trying to make up for contributing financial support to anti-gay political candidates?

  3. by Jessica

    On January 9, 2012 at 3:47 pm

    I remember Kids R Us ads (late 80s-early 90s?)usually included a number of kids with different visible disabilities, including those with crutches, a walker, or wheelchair.

  4. by Jana Weaver

    On January 9, 2012 at 3:58 pm

    We have the book The Animal Bogie by Debbie Harter. When it was given to our daughter back in ’05 (she is typically developing) my husband commented that it was odd they had included a child in a wheelchair in the illustrations. I remarked back that I thought it was great they were including not only different races but abilities. 4+ years later when my husband pulled the book out again to read to our young son with CP, he was quite appreciative of that illustration – and wondered why more children’s books don’t do that. I say kudos to Target and lets keep it going – not only in ads and children’s books – how about the stock photography that’s out there? How about the photos used in magazines to go with articles about child-rearing? There are a lot of places where we see pictures of “the norm” that exclude us. I’ll be happy to see that change!

  5. by Jennie B

    On January 9, 2012 at 7:48 pm

    I think disability rights and disability awareness is becoming more of an issue people are talking about. I may be just more aware because I now have a child with a disability, but I do think – and hope – we will be seeing more of this.

    Of course, there are many kids and adults with “invisible” disabilities, including my gorgeous autistic son. Then again, I could never imagine a photo shoot with him. It would have to involve a lot of running :)

  6. by Dads Do Good

    On January 9, 2012 at 9:02 pm

    Corporations can be human too !!

  7. by Nisha

    On January 10, 2012 at 12:59 am

    I agree with you that the media needs to get a grip it should be no big deal that kids with special needs are featured in ads.

  8. by Debbi

    On April 7, 2012 at 4:30 am

    they are kids too
    I remember back on the TV show Facts of life there was a character Geri with cerbal palsy.But she was only on 1 episode as the network thought a show with Geri would be a very special show indeed.I was very happy when Switched At Birth included a deaf character.Hopefully someday things like these wont make the headlines as they will be the norm