Several years ago, inclusion wasn’t a topic that I had much of an opinion on. I never really thought about how to integrate people with special needs into society. Now it’s a matter that hits close to home for our family. I want Noah to grow up in a world that sees his life as valuable. I want to live in a society that recognizes his abilities rather than focuses on his disabilities. I want other kids to know that Noah is more like them than he is different.
Like it or not, our perceptions are shaped by the media. Unfortunately this is generally for the worse than for the better. The images displayed in the media do a poor job of adequately representing the diversity of our society. And that’s unfortunate because the differences that make us unique should be something to celebrate, not be ashamed of. I believe one small step to encourage an attitude of acceptance is simply exposure. We shy away from what is different because it is unknown and that can feel uncomfortable or awkward. Familiarity, on the other hand, can breed acceptance. It can break down barriers and shatter stereotypes. If kids see other kids with DS (or another disability) doing the same things they are doing, it helps them realize they are kids first.
That is why I think organizations like Changing the Face of Beauty are so inspiring. The founders of this organization created a social media campaign called #IMREADY for #15IN2015 with a goal of getting 15 retailers to use models with disabilities in their advertisements in 2015. What’s amazing is that it is only February and there are already 39 companies committed. That is incredible! Retailers are taking notice of this campaign and doing something about it.
A couple weeks ago I had the opportunity to participate in a discussion group at a major online retailer. The group consisted of members of the company’s buying team, marketing and social media teams, and parents who have kids with disabilities. The conversation was essentially about inclusion. They asked questions like: How can we incorporate kids with disabilities into our website? What are things we should be mindful of and how can we make sure to use appropriate wording? What products would you like to see us carry? How would you want to see a company like us celebrate World Down Syndrome Day? To be in a situation where people were asking me how they could best represent kids like Noah was encouraging. It was remarkable, really. It’s a huge step for companies to not only recognize the need for including people of all abilities in their marketing, but to also be respectful of how they are doing it.
Inclusion matters. It sends a message that everyone is valuable and has something to contribute. That’s a message that I want my children to see in the media. Imagine what a child in a wheelchair or with a hearing aid or with Down syndrome feels when they see someone that looks just like them in the media.