Parents Praise Moves to Include Kids With Disabilities in Media

Target, Sesame Street applauded for depicting children with disabilities By Jason Osler
CBC News, Oct 28, 2015

If you glance at the flyers in your mailbox, you’ll probably see standard shots of models posing with merchandise. But a recent Halloween flyer from a major retailer has drawn attention across the continent, because it features a young girl with a disability.

The Target flyer, from earlier this month, included a picture of a girl who uses forearm crutches and is wearing an Elsa costume from the Disney movie Frozen.

The image went viral on social media after a mother of a child with a disability posted it on Facebook and applauded the move.

“Including children with special needs into advertising makes them less of a spectacle to the general public when they venture out into the real world,” she wrote.

The Target ad was noted in Canada as well.

James Hicks, the national co-ordinator for the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, said he’s happy it got attention for the right reason.

“The fact that it went viral from a very positive perspective, of ‘It’s about time you included it,’ I think that’s probably more the thing that surprised me,” he said.

“It’s that it wasn’t done in such a way that made people feel bad about that little girl. She was just a little girl dressing up as a princess, just like every other little girl.”

Hicks echoes the comments in the Facebook post that initially helped the ad go viral.

“The fact that people start to see images of people with disabilities in everyday situations just living their lives and being a part of what’s going on in the world, that’s a positive image that hasn’t been there for a long time.”

Hicks said disability is often portrayed in one of a few different ways. The person with the disability is sometimes depicted as someone to be pitied, or as a hero like Canadian Rick Hansen or as a villain, such as Captain Hook in Peter Pan.

Sesame Street introduces character with autism

But there are signs that more positive depictions of disability are happening in other media too.

Sesame Street recently introduced a character in its digital and printed books named Julia, who is a preschooler with autism.

It’s part of a broader set of resources called Sesame Street and Autism, which includes a website with videos, digital storybooks and other resources, all designed to help children and parents understand autism.

“Lots of kids have autism and that means their brains just work a little differently,” Sesame Street character Abby Cadabby explains in one video. “My friend Isaiah is working on things that are, well, a little bit harder for him. And boy, is he amazing!”

Poverty reduction for people with disabilities would increase visibility, advocate says

While both the Sesame Street and Target moves are being hailed as good news for people with disabilities, others wonder why it’s taken so long to see disabilities reflected in the media.

Hicks said there have been slow and steady improvements in Canada since the Charter of Rights and Freedoms was introduced in 1982.

But he said representation in advertising and media will continue to be lacking until there’s a fundamental change in the economic reality of having a disability.

He notes a much higher proportion of people with disabilities live in poverty than the rest of society.

According to a report from the Canadian Human Rights Commission, people age 15 to 64 with a disability earn about $9,000 to $10,000 less per year than people without disabilities.

And until that improves, Hicks said, companies will continue to ignore them.

“Once we get to a point where people with disabilities actually have buying power, you’ll see more and more that they’re just included. It won’t be the thing that goes viral anymore. But I don’t know that you will get there until people actually have power enough to be seen as a market that advertisers want to go after.”

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