Special Needs Now

One Mom's Bold Quest to Change the Face of Beauty

Runway Show

Beauty is in all of us, and Katie Driscoll, a photographer and mom to six kids (one who has Down Syndrome), wants the world to see that.

She's been busy working on her wonderful "Changing the Face of Beauty" project, leading the #IMREADY campaign, and orchestrating the recent appearance of Jamie Brewer in a runway show during NY Fashion Week.

I caught up with Driscoll via email to learn more about her current projects and her vision for a future where the beauty of all people is celebrated.

How did you get started with the Changing the Face of Beauty campaign?

Changing the Face of Beauty was started after a friend and I noticed how underrepresented people living with disabilities are in everyday advertising. My daughter was young at the time and I was working with small Etsy vendors, showing them what their products looked like on my daughter. Then, I started branching out. I reached out to vendors, asking them to send products. I photographed children and young adults in those products, and showed vendors what it looks like when you include a model with a disability. It was a win-win!

As time passed, I began reaching out to children's brands and asking them the same question: "Are you interested in seeing your brands on models of all abilities?" My shoots include children of all abilities.

I have always believed that integrating is much more important then segregating. I want people to look at my images and see kids. I don't want them to look at my images and see a difference. I believe that we are all just people at the end of the day, and the less I magnify the differences, the more the images communicate what is possible. That has always been important to me. I want to show advertisers and creatives what is possible when people are given the opportunity to be photographed together.

What are some of the successes you've had so far?

Over the past two years, I have worked with numerous high-profile children's brands including Little Maven by Tory Spelling. I have recreated images for companies like Matilda Jane, The Good Ones, Tea Collection, and RUUM. After starting the #IMREADY campaign this past November, we were able to encourage 37 (and counting) brands to include models with disabilities in 2015. Some of the brands include Infantino toys, North American Bear Co., The Little Gym, and Livie and Luca. Of course, the most recent win was the opportunity for Jamie Brewer to walk the runway for Carrie Hammer during New York Fashion Week.

How did you get involved with the New York Fashion Week runway show for designer Carrie Hammer?

I got involved with Carrie Hammer shortly after her runway debut, when she put Danielle Sheypuk on the runway. Danielle is a beautiful, smart, and successful young woman who is in a wheelchair. Danielle was included because she is a role model to Carrie. I reached out to Carrie and told her how important the decision was for the fashion industry. I think she knew that because every major news outlet was writing about the first time a wheelchair was ever included on the runway. That was 2014! Carrie and I have stayed in touch over the past year, and it was an honor when she reached out and asked for a role model for my daughter. She told me Grace was the inspiration for this year's show. What an honor that was for all of us!

What does your daughter think of Changing the Face of Beauty and having a role model like Jamie Brewer?

Grace is a 5-year-old girl who doesn't really care much about anything outside of her own family. Sure these events and the opportunity to see Jamie Brewer on the runway are wonderful, but she would be just as happy playing with her babies in her bedroom at home. I am taking mental notes, pictures, and I blog about our experiences so that I can relive these moments when she is old enough to truly understand what an impact her little life has had on so many.

If it weren't for Grace, however, there would be no Changing the Face of Beauty. I trust that someone else would have had the conversation, I hope, but I am honored to have pushed this movement with the help of so many to where it is today. It is important to me on so many levels, as a mom and as an individual. I look forward to the day that beauty is more realistic and really represents the human race. Most of all I look forward to the day when my daughter is old enough, and she will know that she is seen and valued in the world she lives in. We have a long way to go, but I believe advertising can push the envelope faster then anything else.

What are your hopes for the CFOB campaign and the #IMREADY movement?

I hope that brands big and small will commit to using models of all abilities in 2015 and beyond. It is amazing what people can do on social media. This movement would be nowhere without all the people who have created videos and imagery asking retailers to consider using models with disabilities. I cannot reveal all the brands that have committed, but I promise 2015 is going to be a beautiful year in advertising! Everyone will be pleasantly surprised when they do start seeing big retailers with diverse advertising campaigns.

I also work closely with Gail Williamson at KMR a talent agency in California. She heads up the brand that supports actors with disabilities. She told me she has never been this busy in her entire career. This is all good. Times are changing, and so is the face of beauty.

Any other final thoughts?

This is all new. We are at a crossroads and it is time for brands to turn in the right direction. I believe they want to turn in the right direction, and I am here to encourage them, answer questions, and show them the possibilities. I firmly believe that the face of beauty will change in 2015. My dream is that one day this conversation will not be as important as it is today.

Jamie Pacton lives near Lake Michigan where she drinks loads of coffee, dreams of sailing, and enjoys each day with her husband and two sons, Liam (6) and Eliot (4). Her writing has appeared in the Autism and Asperger's Digest (2011-2013), Parents, and the book collection Monday Coffee and Other Stories of Parenting Kids with Special Needs. Find her at www.jamiepacton.com, Facebook (Jamie Pacton), and Twitter (@jamiepacton)

Life With Down Syndrome

Image: Jamie Brewer, Grace Driscoll, and Katie Driscoll at New York Fashion Week, courtesy of Katie Driscoll