When retail giants Target and Nordstrom opted to include
children with Down syndrome in their print advertising, marketing
pros suggested the corporations were savvy, tapping into an
audience of 53 million who collectively control $200 million in
annual buying power.
Others suggested it was a risky move that ultimately benefited
the corporate giants while enhancing the profile of children with
Both corporations made the move in favor of inclusion in 2012
without calling attention to it. It was the special needs community
that quickly sat up and took notice. Blogs lit up with the news
that, after years of being excluded, the walls corporate America
had built were finally-and notably-coming down.
Just as quickly, questions surfaced whether the practice could
be seen as exploitative or as pandering to an audience advertisers
had long ignored.
It was a theory that never gained traction.
Those who work to promote inclusion are pleased with what they
have seen so far, and would like to see it expand to include other
companies and even greater exposure.
Toys 'R' Us followed the lead of Target and Nordstrom, taking it
a step farther when they produced a toy guide for differently abled
kids in 2013 using the children as models that the toys were
designed to help.
Late last year, Hollywood actress Tori Spelling-with her Little
Maven clothing line-became the first high-profile boutique
children's wear company to declare inclusion the standard.
Advocates say these corporate decisions are validation of just
how important special needs families are in society today while
providing another venue to mainstream children with special
"We have noticed what we believe is becoming a trend toward
inclusion, not only in advertising, but also in television on
shows, like Glee which has a teen with Down syndrome in a recurring
role, and in films," says Ann Garcia, family support coordinator at
the metro Chicago-based National Association for Down Syndrome.
Lauren Potter plays Becky Jackson, the co-captain of the
Cheerios on the popular program and is one of four individuals with
Down syndrome who have been cast in roles on the show.
"It is gratifying that after more than 50 years of advocating
for children with Down syndrome we are seeing our efforts continue
to bear fruit," Garcia says. "These corporate entities no longer
believe that having a child with Down syndrome in their advertising
is risky. They ... are beginning to take notice of the many gifted
individuals, who happen to have Down syndrome."
Increasingly, Garcia says organizations such as NADS receive
calls from unexpected arenas-such as textbook publishers looking
for models-and take note.
"This movement is gathering momentum because of people, such as
Prince William and Kate Middleton, as well as others who are making
conscious decisions that positively influence public thought," she
Although the royal couple typically shun gifts, they gratefully
accepted a painting of Rupert the Flying Bear, painted by Tazia
Fawley, an adult with Down syndrome in England, in honor of the
birth of Prince George. The move was seen as significant in helping
reverse the stigma that has historically followed those with the
disability in that country.
As a professional working with the Down syndrome community and a
parent with a teen daughter with the chromosomal abnormality, Linda
Smarto sees the benefits of corporate inclusion from a host of
In her role as program coordinator for NADS, Smarto's job is to
champion Chicago's Down syndrome community.
"Every time we see an individual with Down syndrome featured
alongside what are considered traditional models, it becomes easier
for the next child and the child after that," she says. "Our kids
are building on those successes and doing things today people would
never have imagined even 10 or 20 years ago."
Inclusion has provided Smarto's daughter, Julia, with dreams
that have expanded her horizons, giving her the courage to aspire
to do anything other teens her age are doing.
"My daughter performs as part of a dance troupe with other girls
who want to raise the bar, to show the community what teens with
Down syndrome can do," she says. "... These girls... perform at
venues, such as Great America and in retirement homes or at the
mall, just like other girls their age."
That point of having the opportunity to be like any other child
is one Smarto drives home whenever she talks about the importance
of inclusion, of giving every child the opportunity to live up to
their abilities and realize their dreams.
It is a dream parents are learning they can have as soon as they
have a child who has been born with Down syndrome.
"Every time someone opens a magazine or sees a commercial that
includes children from the Down syndrome community, it builds
awareness," Smarto says. "That helps make it less scary for parents
with newborns because they have seen the beautiful faces of people
with disabilities who are out there leading wonderful and
fulfilling lives, the kind of lives they dreamed of for their child
before they knew they had Down syndrome."
See more of Robin's stories here.
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