The Photo That Broke A Mother’s Heart… {and mine, too}

When my husbands aunt came to live with us after yet another relative couldn’t care for her, I was shocked at how little had been done for her over the years.I used to think, If only she would have been born in today’s time (instead of the fourties), she may have been able to live a fully independent life instead of being passed from relative to relative her whole life, never being able to read or write or do the things everyone else could.

When she was born, her diagnosis was “mental retardation” (still makes me cringe today like it did the first time I read it on her medical records) Like many other kids back then who were born with any type of disability (even sometimes a physical disability), that was the diagnosis. There have been so many wonderful things that have come about in the last half century for kids with special needs. Special needs children can have the choice of special schools or be integrated in a typical classroom, there are camps to attend with kids with similar disabilities and organizations that fight for their rights and help give them a voice. But just when we thought we have come so far, this happens {See Babble Story HERE}.

Personally I don’t believe that the photographer is a bad person who hates kids in wheelchairs. I also don’t believe that it was meant to be hurtful or malicious in any way. What I do think is that in this story, of 5 entities involved (the teacher, principal, photographer, the company and his mother), only one person (his mom) immediately saw the issue with what the picture represented, is totally unacceptable.

Life is busy, I get it. In the hustle of trying to get 20 kids (give or take) to stand still and in order by height, to be quiet and to smile, this photographer simply “overlooked” the fact that a little boy in a wheel chair is segregated from his peers. That’s what people do. They overlook the people around them and not really think about how they feel, what they have lived through to or who they are.

That little boy wasn’t just another little kid in the class. He is a smiling, happy little boy who is leaning in so desperate to be close to his friends. Because his wheelchair didn’t “fit” he was put to the side. He is a child who I’m sure his whole life has fought, along with his family to “fit” into school and into society. And in one day, with one rushed photo, all that work that family has done seemed to be erased. A school portrait that for the rest of eternity will be a snapshot of how far we really have to go before children like him can really be a part of a classroom.

My message to this little man – keep smiling! Life is hard but if you don’t lose that smile, you will be fine. And to his mom – thank you! Thanks for not just “letting this one go” like many others would have. Thank you for bringing this to the world’s attention. Keep fighting for your child and be the warrior that you are.

Maybe we can all learn a lesson from this sweet little boy. The same lesson that I learned from caring for my husbands aunt with special needs. Fight for those who need a little help fighting for themselves. If someone or something doesn’t “fit”, make sure that you do what you can to make them feel like they do. Make sure you include instead of exclude and please start “seeing” the people around you. Don’t get so caught up in the busy of your day that you don’t notice the little boy you left out or someone who needs your help. You never know when someone or something can change your life.

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