Monday, January 7, 2013

A child with disability on the cover of Parents magazine: YES! YES! YES!


"Look, Max!" I say. I'm showing him the cover of Parents magazine, which features a super-cute little girl in foot braces holding onto a walker. Max stares at the photo for a minute and breaks into a smile. He points at the walker, then he points to himself. I know what he's saying. "Yes, Max, you used to have a walker, too!" I acknowledge.

I feel giddy: Max is seeing someone like him on the cover of a major magazine. Many, many people will also see this girl and get the message that, hel-lo, kids with different abilities are worthy cover models. They are worthy of being part of anything and everything the world has to offer.

In the past couple of years we've seen more inclusion of kids with special needs in mainstream media, including the Target and Nordstrom ads featuring Ryan Langston, who has Down syndrome; the girl with a wheelchair in last fall's Girl Scouts catalog; and the little girl with Down syndrome who became a swimsuit catalog model this past summer. But having a child with special needs as the cover model for a mainstream magazine is major. It's about time!

That kid is Emily Keicher, a 3-year-old from Buffalo, New York, who has spina bifida. The magazine found Emily through the Spina Bifida Association; her parents are active fundraisers.

Emily in the issue's "Make It" column

Originally, Emily was only going to be featured in the Age by Age guide but when the editors saw her spark, they decided to shoot more photos for the cover and include her in the Make It column and voila, a star was born! Then again, she already was one. 

Dana Points, the editor of Parents and a longtime friend and colleague, answered a bunch of questions for me here. I also did an interview with Emily's mom, Liz, over at my Parents' blog and you can hear her speak in the video below. Can you tell how excited I am? So, so, excited, and hopeful about the impact a cover like this could have.

Is Emily the first child with visible disabilities to be featured on the cover of a national magazine, do you know?
I don’t know, actually. As far as I know it’s the first time a major national parenthood magazine has featured a child with a visible disability on the cover—as opposed to a news or celebrity magazine, for example. But I wasn’t focused so much on being first as being true with our readers, many of whom have children with different abilities.
  
What first got you thinking about the idea?
Believe it or not, I’ve been thinking about it for more than a year. When we redesigned Parents last February, one of our goals was to bring a more real-life feel to the cover—and real kids have disabilities, visible and less visible. But it took us a while to get there. We’d included kids with disabilities occasionally in our magazine in the four years I’d been here, but I realized that we needed to involve these children beyond stories that were about their condition. They simply needed to appear in the pages, just as nondisabled kids do.

In recent years there have been a handful of kids with disabilities featured in mainstream media, including recent Target and Nordstrom ads and a Girl Scout catalog. Why do you think it's taken the media this long to include these kids?
First there is the obvious answer: that media of all kinds so often focus on portraying perfection. But in all honesty, it does take extra planning and effort to deviate from that norm. Our photo team has worked hard over the last year to make that happen. Photo shoots are typically done with models and there are not a lot of child models with disabilities. Moreover, a typical photo shoot can be tiring even for kids who aren’t disabled. So we had to be especially careful to be sensitive to that, and to things like whether the studio where we were shooting was accessible. It's also important to be true to a child's abilities—if a child with a disability isn't developmentally able to do something that would be required for the shoot, it wouldn't be right for us to fake it for the camera. Our photo director, Lily Alt, chose to photograph kids with disabilities for our table-of-contents pages, for example, because it made the process easier and more manageable for families than, say, shooting a big feature story on location outdoors.

This summer, a beautiful little girl with Down syndrome made headlines when she was chosen to be the face of a swimwear catalog. Some mused whether the company was exploiting the child for attention. What would you say to naysayers like that?
I can't speak to what the company's motivation was, but I think that in the end it's good for people to see a child with Down syndrome in a catalog, getting national attention, and doing the same thing that kids without Down syndrome do.

In what ways, if any, did meeting Emily change perceptions you may have had about children with disabilities?
I was lucky to go on set and spend a little time with Emily and interview her mom Liz for our video. Watching them together—reading a book or dancing to music—made me think of when my own sons were that little and that in turn reminded me that as parents we all have more things in common than we do things that separate us. Of course knowing how tricky it is to put on tiny tights, and then realizing that the braces must go on after that, also gave me such admiration for Liz and her husband and anyone who cares for a special-needs child. I remember how tired I was as a toddler mom, and parenting a child with special needs takes even more energy, I'm sure.

What was your favorite moment at the photo shoot?
Watching Emily dance is pretty special. Ellen DeGeneres has nothing on her!

Have you shown the cover to your kids? What was their response?
I did. I brought the issue home as soon as it arrived in the office and left it casually on the sofa to see what their reaction would be. Only my older son, who is 11, said anything and then it was, "I'm not sure her shirt and her skirt really match." What is shocking to adults doesn't phase kids—we should all take a cue from them. And our kids are growing up in a more inclusive world than we did. Progress is slow, but it happens.

OK, when can I get Max on the cover? He has really good hair. I'm only half-joking! 
Ha! But seriously: We invite families to enter our Parents cover model contest every year starting in April. So everyone does have a chance to see their child on the cover. I will be interested to see if we get more submissions from parents of children with special needs in 2013 because more families will feel like their child really could end up on our cover, now that they have seen that happen.

34 comments:

  1. Oh, I love that Emily is on the cover! That is SUPER great! (As the parent of a child with only one eye, I hate the cards, but I'm probably just being sensitive... my son would probably love them.) And I definitely agree... Max was BORN for the cover! ;)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Faye, I will pass along your recommendation! He, he.

      Delete
  2. it's about time!! yay! Kristen

    ReplyDelete
  3. Love this. Also reminds me I keep meaning to share this book with you, if you haven't seen it - Have Fun, Molly Lou Melon. A new neighbor moves in who is totally awesome, and also has super powers. But that's not the main part of the story, it's just there.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Anna, I will check it out!

      Delete
  4. I was overjoyed to see this cover! My son, with spina bifida also, had the same reaction as Max! He has a walker that he uses for standing support while wearing his HKAFO braces, so he could definitely identify with Emily! I was happy to be able to show him that cover, and happy to see adorable Emily on the cover of such a huge magazine! Hoping to see more in the future!

    ReplyDelete
  5. It's odd to me that this is seen as such a new trend. Back in the early 90s, many of the major retailers like Target were featuring kids with special needs in their weekly ads. A local modeling agency in Dallas was actively recruiting kids with disabilities for photo shoots. I submitted photos of my kiddos and we went for an interview. Alas, nothing came of it for my kids, but many were given modeling gigs. I wonder why the advertising agencies stopped this trend for two decades?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wouldn't it be great if someone did their college thesis on this?

      Delete
  6. BRAVO to Parents!!! We are waiting to see this kind of cover-shot diversity in Canadian parenting magazines.

    And Dana, if you are ever looking for other children with disabilities to feature, just contact your local children's rehab centre. I work at Canada's largest children's rehab hospital and we often have requests for child models and actors which we post for our families. There is no shortage of kids with special needs who would love to be included.

    Thanks so much!

    ReplyDelete
  7. LOVE it! And, I love Dana's son's reaction, too! If parents don't make a big deal about kids' differing abilities, then kids won't think it's a big deal, either.

    ReplyDelete
  8. This is fantastic. She's a beautiful child and it's a beautiful cover.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Yea! Emily is beautiful. I did not notice the braces on her feet until later. My daughter wears them, too. I can not wait until I am on in a store next time to get this magazine! Very beautiful cover!

    ReplyDelete
  10. Love. This! Thanks so much for featuring it. Woll rush out to buy Parents mag for the 1st time in years.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Love it and I love that her son didn't even notice Emily's disability. Inclusion rocks!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Same thing happened with Sabrina: When I showed her the magazine and asked if she noticed anything special about the cover, she said "That girl is soooo cute!" When I asked if there was anything else, only then did she mention the walker.

      Delete
  12. She is beautiful! Thrilled to see this as a typical story rather than disability focused. I think it's a move forward, slowly.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Overdue! All children deserve mainstream attention. They are all special and have different learning styles and ways of doing things. How can we work together in 2013 to raise our own expectations and challenge our beliefs? One idea is to include beneficial educational resources and strategies to help children with differing abilities reach their true potential.

      Delete
  13. A really good show for inclusiveness is "Glee" (for older kids). One of the main characters uses a wheelchair, and in one episode, the whole glee club is in wheelchairs and are dancing. They are also having a contest where you have to sit in a wheelchair for a week to show people what it's like. Oh boy, how I wish that could be reality.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Thank you for sharing this--great post and great interview!

    ReplyDelete
  15. I was so excited when I saw this. My daughter has spina bifida, too.

    ReplyDelete
  16. That is why we read Exceptional Parent all those years.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Love the story the interview the whole thing.......thanks love the way the mom thinks

    ReplyDelete
  18. my girlfreind has this too and it is about time

    ReplyDelete
  19. I love it! My daughter also has spina bifida too. I think it's awesome that the parent magazine put her on the front cover!

    ReplyDelete
  20. I have never heard you mention anything about Maxs hair until today. I just wanted to let you know I have always admired it from afar...and been just a tad jealous! It's gorgeous, just like him. Sabrinas is, too. Looks like y'all are a 'hair blessed' family. Lol

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Both kids got versions of Dave's hair, which truly is Awesome Hair! I'd show this to him but I don't want to over-inflate his ego.

      Delete
  21. Awesome, awesome, awesome! I'm so happy that not only did Parents magazine feature Emily on the cover but also that her spina bifida is not the reason for her being on the cover. It makes me wonder why more companies don't do this, too. I love this! It gave me warm fuzzies and happy tears. :)

    ReplyDelete
  22. That girl is cute. I want to give her a hug.

    ReplyDelete
  23. I'm so excited about this!

    Nikki
    www.onetinystarfish.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
  24. I have to say its a great cover. As a pediatric occupational therapist and momma to three, I think this was a fabulous cover. To me, the best part was that I saw her spunk and fabulous clothes before I realized she had a walker. In fact, I went back to social media's hype thinking I had the wrong magazine for the cover shot. Now that's a job well done! Parents' shot made this little girl stand out not her disability.

    ReplyDelete
  25. This makes me tear up. My two year old Cassie has spina bifida and In my eyes she is perfect! Emilys mom is correct, if you have recently received this diagnosis, everything will be ok! I was blessed to have a team of doctors that were caring and never once suggested abortion.

    ReplyDelete
  26. Love this post! Not sure if you saw my subsequent post/interview on my blog about about Emily with her mom, Liz. It was also featured on Mamiverse: http://www.mamiverse.com/hero-emily-keicher-cover-parents-magazine-34396/

    ReplyDelete

Thanks for sharing!