By Elaine Dai
I read an article today about Gap’s new ad for its autumn kids’ collection, which features a girl with cerebral palsy, in a wheel-chair. Special needs parents are applauding the ad, saying that the more people see children with disabilities in ads, television, and the media, the more they will be seen by others like any other kid, and included, like any other kid.
This really struck a chord with me, as my kids attend a local public school that has a special therapy wing for orthopedically handicapped children. The unique facility allows disabled children to participate in school alongside and with other children while also getting the therapy they need on-site. I think when we learn about these kinds of program, we immediately understand the necessary and direct benefits to the children receiving therapy. But I think we sometimes miss the broader, indirect benefits to the rest of us, all of us.
What I’ve come to realize is how this inclusive program has changed how my children interact in the world: my kindergartener son comes home from school talking about choosing tag locations on flat ground so that his friend in a wheelchair can play too; my 9-year-old daughter takes her lunch in the therapy wing to hang out with her friend, who is quadriplegic and talks through an iPad. To my children, this is a regular day at school, but from an adult view, we understand how profound and positive an impact it has not just now, but also in their later lives.
I wish this kind of experience for every kid, starting with the images we see in media on a daily basis because it is through these experiences that our children have a shot at growing up to be adults who will help shape a world where people of all abilities are included and appreciated.
My friend, Jodi Murphy, is an autism storyteller who is doing just that. By leveraging the power of media, she is helping change how the world views autism through mobile story apps. Jodi’s son Jonathan is now an adult with autism who has found meaningful work from using his unique gifts. Their first autism story-app, The Mighty League, vol.1: The Terrible Taunting, is based on his real-life experiences. 1 in 59 children are on the autism spectrum, but over 70% say they are bullied in school. We, as parents, can all contribute to educating our children about autism and helping those who are autistic feel included and valued.
Valued and included starts with valuing and including, and that’s something ALL of us can do.
**Elaine Dai, is owner and attorney for InspiraLaw, a legal firm that serves businesses and nonprofits, with a focus on creative businesses and social-purpose ventures.
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Image from Gap.com