02 December 2013

The Cutting Edge

Being on the cutting edge is supposed to be cool. Hip. Desirable, to be sure. And that's the backbone of many industries, the fashionshpere especially. But when it comes to people with disabilities, especially intellectual disabilities (IDs), being on the cutting edge means that you might literally be cut out of the picture. Left on the fringe - yet another example of how people with IDs are often marginalized in our society, and how we parents are fighting for full inclusion not just for our children's education, but for life in general.

It's true that we see more and more people with Down syndrome, for example, in the media (think Lauren Potter, the young boy in the Target ads to whom a certain dad in our community brought media frenzy, etc.). But in general, people with disabilities aren't in mainstream view. I don't think it's purposeful (at least, not always). And I think it can change, quite easily in fact.

For years I've reached out to brands like crewcuts (JCrew), mini Boden, Tea Collection, GAP, Old Navy, Zara, Converse, United Colors of Benetton, and more recently Peek and businesses like Tiny Prints (now owned by Shutterfly), and Pottery Barn (although, truth be told, I'm not even sure my emails are getting to anybody). I've told them I am a loyal customer (a little too loyal, at times), that I love their style, and that I hoped they would begin to think about diversity in a different, more expanded way.

Diversity is not just about race, ethnicity, sex or any of the other demographic categories people tend to focus on... we need to show diversity with regard to abilities, as well.* And, I think the inclusion of people with IDs - or disabilities in general - is just not on people's radar unless we put it there. A recent example of this was Tori Spelling's Little Maven search for models with disabilities. I applaud Ms. Spelling's response to a mom's letter by creating a contest of sorts (I especially applaud her for not making it a popularity contest by requiring votes or anything like that). And in the future, brands should be telling their model agencies that they want truly diverse models. Without making it a contest at all.

Why do I think this is so important? It's "just" fashion or stationary or furniture or lunch bags... it's "just" a catalog or a website. Why would it even matter?

It matters because I don't want my son growing up in a world where he is invisible. Where people like him don't exist in our view. I hate that everyone gets giddy (as evidenced by all the shares on Facebook) about that one episode, or show, or advertisement, or whatever that features a person with Down syndrome, or CP, or Autism, etc. I hate that it's a cause for celebration when we have that rare sighting. Because a full 20% of our population carries the label "disability" yet people with disabilities are rare in our media, and even more rare when it comes to consumer marketing (yes, I am aware that, for example, Toys R Us puts out a special catalog once a year for children with disabilities and that Infantino has the "Everybody Plays" campaign).

So, I hope that people like Joanna Lee (JCrew), Rory Edwards (GAP), Johanna Langford (JCrew), Leigh Rawdon (Tea Collection), Emily Meyer (Tea Collection), Laura Ching (tiny prints), Gabriele Lunati (Benetton), and the many other founders, directors, marketers of major brands begin to expand their own visions of what they do (after all, many of these industry leaders are parents themselves who must understand the importance of valuing every person for who he or she is).  These brands represent what others look up to, which means other brands might very well follow suit. These are brands that celebrate diversity. I just want them to celebrate diversity inclusively. I want them to push the envelope of what is cutting edge.

Because in the end, I want the image of disability to be a complete non-issue. I want to not even think twice when I see a child, adult, or baby with a disability in a catalog or online. I want my son - and others like him - to be so fully visible in this life that it's no longer cutting edge to include him.

*Note: I know not all disabilities are visible, so it's possible that more people with disabilities have been included in recent marketing campaigns, but my (albeit limited) research hasn't turned much up.

Edited to add: Writing this made me want to take a little nostalgic walk through Sheridan's wardrobe... why does clothing make you feel so sentimental?

crewcuts, Livie & Luca

Little Maven, Livie & Luca

crewcuts, Tea Collection, Zara, Uggs

crewcuts, holiday card from tiny prints

Taken 3 years ago, this is one of my all-time favorite pictures of Sheridan; Little Maven, Tea Collection, Converse

Another favorite image; mini Boden

Oh how I loved this mini Boden porcupine sweater (good thing I saved it for Cyan!)
Tea Collection (look how little he was!!!)

Sheridan has recently started to put his own outfits together, including his request to add a tie to this casual ensemble from crewcuts, Next, Converse, and Peek


  1. Your boy was born for the catwalk.

    Yes, I love the idea of not even blinking an eye to see someone with a disability modeling.

  2. Saw this after reading your post: http://jezebel.com/people-with-disabilities-react-to-mannequins-created-in-1475812519