Thursday, June 20, 2013

Loathing Difference (with an update)

The story of the two photos is now so widely known that I won't go into detail. For those who don't know, it involves a school photograph, a class of kids one of which was a boy with a disability and exclusion. As a result of the initial photograph going viral, a second one was taken. The second photo has been much praised as an example of inclusion. I am about to go absolutely public and say I dislike the second one almost as much as the first one ... take a look at the two pictures:




In the first the young boy was clearly set apart, was clearly leaning in trying to get as close to his classmates as possible. It is an ugly picture no doubt.

In the second picture the young man is in the front row, on the far right, in the striped sweater, beside the teacher. Here he has been taken out of his chair and placed on the seat.

The only thing I will agree with is that the second picture looks better than the first.

But the second picture does something worse. It gives him the message that he, as he isn't, is welcome, and that he, as he is, isn't welcome and should be excluded.

I have been reading about how we perceive 'diversity' and 'difference' in society. I read recently that those who welcome diversity are often the same people who loathe difference. That statement is reified by these pictures. Why could this young man not have been included, wheelchair and all, in a picture? I am not a photographer - I'm hardly even qualified to be considered a 'picture taker' but I am clever enough to figure out a variety of different ways for this picture to have been taken where he could have been involved and included in his wheelchair.

I wonder if he is learning something here ... that his WHEELCHAIR is the problem. It isn't, of course, it's the limited imagination of those involved ... or, more likely, the unwillingness to be imaginative, of the adults in the picture and behind the camera. However, he may begin to think - "if I am in my wheelchair, I get excluded. I need to be less 'different' in order to be fully accepted and welcomed."

My view will not be a common one, my view may even be offensive to some ... perhaps even this boy and his family. However, as the picture was made public I believe I have a right to make commentary.

The first picture is obviously bad.

The second picture is subtly worse.

A bad resolution to a problem that should have never, in a just and kind world, been.

...

oh and ...

I just realized something and I want to add it in here kind of as an addendum to what I've written thus far:  Hey wait a minute! I am fat. I am in a wheelchair. I have also written a lot of books and done a lot of lectures. As a result I often have the request to have my picture taken with a group. Once in fact with a group of students in a DSW class at a college near me. Not once did I sit off to the side as the group huddled together away from me. NOT FRIGGING ONCE! Every picture of me with a group is a picture of me WITH a group. It isn't FREAKING rocket science. I have read so many comments wondering how the picture could have been taken in a way that included him naturally in his wheelchair. REALLY?? In all the years I've had pictures taken of me in my wheelchair that question has never been asked ... not ONCE.

47 comments:

Anonymous said...

I agree with you that the message this photo is giving is dangerous. But I'm not sure of the solution. Frankly, kids that age don't want to appear different from their peers. They don't want to stand out. (I'm assuming this was maybe 4th grade?)

When I was that age, I remember being ashamed of my clothes - my mother wasn't very fashion conscious. So I would have probably tried to hide my purple pants, or to have taken off my very un-cool glasses for a performance or photo. It seems silly now, but I was a 10-year-old, and those things mattered then.

I can imagine a student using a wheelchair feeling like that, too, sometimes. While I believe in the message it would portray to others to see him proudly participating in his wheelchair, is that message more important than the feeling he would have for that one hour, for that one photo, of being just one of the kids?

CapriUni said...

Well, I agree with you, Dave -- especially as someone born with her disability.

My chair is not bolted to my butt (as some people seem to think), but it is an important part of how I move through, and understand, the world. And the idea of that importance being erased, as an easy way out, makes me sad.

From looking at those two pictures, I would have solved the problem by getting rid of the bleachers -- have the kids in front sit in single chairs, and have the kids in back standing, as they are now...

theknapper said...

I agree with you Dave.

Kristine said...

Ugh!! I hadn't seen the second photo yet. That makes me want to scream and cry and throw things. This poor kid. First, he's displayed as "other" in his class photo. Then, his embarrassing photo is publicized all over the internet, for the world to see. And now, they take away his wheelchair! He might not know how to process all of this right now, being so young, but you can bet he won't forget it...

My personal frustration came when a friend posted a link on facebook to the original photo. I agreed with her disgust with the picture, and shared a personal experience.

This was my comment: "The photographer's an idiot. It's just not hard to tell the other kids, "Scooch to your left." Practically the same thing happened to me in middle school. I was set aside, by myself, in a group photo, and humiliated at the time, but too shy to say anything. Went home upset, my parents made angry phone calls, and they retook the photo a few days later, so it wasn't printed in the yearbook that way. I remember the other kids were confused and annoyed, "Why are we taking the photo again? Didn't we just do this?" I just stayed quiet...."

(Ok, maybe "idiot" wasn't a nice word on my part. I was expressing an emotion.)

A little later, a friend of my friend (unknown to me), posted this directly below my comment: "Can we say oversensitive much? I'm sure neither the teacher nor the photography was purposely looking for a way to exclude this child or make it appear as such. Sometimes I wish the world would stop freaking out about every little damn thing."

I still don't know whether she read my comment, or was just responding to the photo without reading my comment. But in either case, it stung a bit! I'd just shared an experience I'd never told anyone before, and a total stranger says my emotional reaction was wrong. I responded, starting with the word, "Ouch...", and calmly reiterating the emotional impact of a photo like that one. And... the end. No response. Nobody else felt a need to chime in, offer any support, or even a "like" button. Not a soul on the internet had my back. Ouch.

wheeliecrone said...

I absolutely agree with you, Dave.
The idea that a person is only acceptable if they appear to be without disability is totally offensive to me. The idea that I can only be accepted if I pretend to be something that I'm not is poisonous, in my opinion.
As far as I can see, that young chap is surrounded by adults who do not accept him. The kids? Well, they may accept him or not - but their adult role models are not setting much of an example, if you judge by this set of photos.

Jisun said...

Thank you for this. I thought the same thing when I saw it. I wondered, is this boy going to get the not so subtle message that in order to be included, he must ditch his wheelchair? I agree, better than the first but subtly still problematic.

Heidi said...

Whilst I believe there is an element of truth in what you say, Dave, I hold my hand up and admit that I too have "arranged" for photos similar to the second to be taken...on reflection, I think I would do so again for the following reasons: both pupils are littlies, and sitting kids "squished together" on a bench is what often happens at this age; both pupils use benches for a variety of their physio progs, so it is not an unusual occurrence for either of them; I like to maximise opportunities for their friends to get physically close to them (again, something children typically do a lot of at this age, as what between standing frames, trays, splints etc etc it sometimes feels like there is an "equipment blockade" between them and their friends and I don't want friends to think they can't have this physical contact; the youngsters themselves seem to like it and they can be assisted by friends instead of by the often all too present adult; their friends learn to be attentive to what is needed (an extra hand, an extra nudge to stay upright)and all in all I don't have a prob with it at this age... once the pupils are older they are more commonly seated on combinations of floor, benches and chairs for school photos/assemblies etc, and at this point, the youngsters we support, would use their wheelchairs. I don't think we're pretending the kids don't have a disability through trying to "hide" their wheelchairs...and whilst a picture can tell a thousand words, sometimes we can put a slant on things that's not there...dunno...what do others think?

Louise said...

What strikes me is the way he still looks different - the other kids have obviously been told 'fold your hands, put your knees together' - why? Why they couldn't just put his chair right next to the end of the bench, and have the other kids scoot along next to him, I really don't know. I think both photos are offensive.

Ashley's Mom said...

Exactly Dave, exactly....

Andrea said...

Kristine, I'm sorry that happened to you--both the original incident in middle school and the people not having your back in Facebook the first time you shared that story.

I have had the experience of trying to share my sense of frustration and betrayal at being denied basic accommodations I needed (as a deaf person) only to have people act as if my needs for accommodations were a mere preference, in the way that a person may prefer chocolate ice cream over vanilla, not actual needs. And that made my sense of frustration/betrayal/upset worse.

As a person who walks, I've never been stuck off on the side in a group picture. But having the sense that other people are basically trying to say that my emotional response is completely wrong and invalid? Yeah, that one resonates very well with me.

stillfinditsohard said...

Children do not loathe difference because it is natural to them, or instinctive. They might think they do, and we might think they do, but from the time we are but a few months old, we learn to fear or loathe things that are different. Part of that has to do with the seeming insularity of the early family unit.

It is also worth considering whose choice this actually was? Did the boy say that he wanted to be out of the wheelchair for the second shot? Because if he did, that changes things.

But it is also evident that we have forgotten something about the purpose of school here. From the time we start to move outside of the family nest, we encounter people who are different to us. Sometimes those differences are very subtle, such as a different way of speaking. Sometimes those differences are not very subtle at all, such as a difference in skin colour or the need for a mechanised chair in order to get around. And schools seem to be forgetting these days that it is their job to teach that difference is a perfectly normal thing.

Kristine is right about one thing (actually her whole comment is right, but I want to focus on this one bit). As the son of a man who used to take wedding photographs semi-professionally, and a hobby photographer myself, I have to wonder just how hard it is for a photographer to say "okay, let us change the setup a little bit". In fact, that is exactly what I would do. And if someone from the school, such as a teacher, argued with me about it, I would be giving them a good piece of my mind about exclusion and how bad I consider teachers who practise it as a rule to be.

It is not difficult to place a wheelchair in the middle of a formation, place moveable chairs to either side for the front row, have the children in the second row stand, and put something in the third row for those children to stand on. But I will thank the teachers and staff who supervised this shot for not knowing that.

Because I know I certainly would not want them in the position of teaching my nieces or nephew.

Susan Hughes said...

I think we are too often quick to get angry in situations like this when we should be educating and getting the word out. While I agree that the first photo is offensive and the second isn't really much of an improvement, I think we need to look at intent. It seems that perhaps the adults in this situation are just ignorant of the message(s) they are sending in both photos. While ignorance is no excuse, I think we can do more to change things by educating people rather than by getting angry.

Susan Hughes in Mass. said...

I think we are too often quick to get angry in situations like this when we should be educating and getting the word out. While I agree that the first photo is offensive and the second isn't really much of an improvement, I think we need to look at intent. It seems that perhaps the adults in this situation are just ignorant of the message(s) they are sending in both photos. While ignorance is no excuse, I think we can do more to change things by educating people rather than by getting angry.

n. said...

this bothered me, too, but i didn't get to the root of it. you did. thank you.

Colleen said...

I bet if they had asked the kids (including Miles) to figure out how they wanted to be photographed they would have come up with something cool. The adults seem to be stuck in a rut around using the benches.

Belly (Liz McLennan) said...

The debate goes on on my FB wall and via PM, for me.

I too, like the second picture, but only just. The fact that they took him from his wheelchair really, really bothers me. What I wrote on FB:

Miles should be in his wheelchair. Why does he have to "pretend" to not use one, just to fit in? His disability means that he uses one - it's what allows him to move through his days, his life. If the benches need to go in order to accommodate it, then what's the harm, I ask you? What's the harm is saying, "We will include you, nay, we will ENFOLD you, because you are our friend, our classmate."

Anonymous said...

Ugh. Just ugh. I had heard the photo was retaken, but never dreamed it would purposefully exclude the boy's wheelchair. Apparently, that darn bench was the most important element of the photos.

CapriUni's solution is so simple. Doesn't say much for the state of education that no one was able to correctly suss this one out.

Sue

Anonymous said...

I had a slightly different experience with picture taking last summer. I attended a leadership development weekend seminar for members of a certain service organization. This particular organization has as one of its priorities to assist blind people. I happen to be blind. The conference was generally aweful, full of stereotypes, unequal treatment, superiority complexes and all manner of unpleasantness. The final straw was during group photo time at the end. The tall people were instructed to go to the back, so being tall I went to the back row with my guide dog. There was a bit of a scene when the photographer wanted me in the front so they could get a good picture of the dog. I flatly refused. I will not be their token blind person, the example of what wonderful work they are doing or how inclusionary they are. Of course I am an adult and the circumstances of my situation are very different from the kiddo in the above picture...still I wonder if he was the one to make the decision about whether or not to be in his wheelchair? Because to me that's the important bit-the personal choice to do what feels right for us at that time, in that particular situation. If the kiddo was allowed to make his own decision, to leave his wheelchair out, then I feel that was the right choice for him.

Dave Hingsburger said...

Kristine,

First, I really want to thank you for telling your story here in this comment section, what happened, both times, saddens me. I applaud your courage to attempt again to be heard here. It's terrible that we have to say, and say, and say again in order to be heard.

Second, it actually angers me when we are told that we are over-sensitive, or hyper-critical, or have thin skins ... when we raise legitimate protest against exclusion and discrimination. How do you 'just get over' being treated as second class?

Thanks again for your courage here.

Tyger said...

The family actually does address the wheelchair/no wheelchair aspect of the second photo here:

http://www.theprovince.com/gorgeous+says+improved+class+picture/8544501/story.html#ixzz2WfBJvhut

Their reasoning for taking him out of his chair is that he is not (as someone else here said) glued to it, and spends time on the couch and in bed.

Personally, I think he should have been given a choice. . . I do think that parents long for their children to be "normal" (whatever that actually means) and fit in in a way that the kids are actually less acutely aware of.

unitacx said...

I think, no matter how they would do it, the chair would keep the kid separated. Look at the younger adult, audience left in both photos. In the second photo, the kids are close to the edge on the 1st and 2nd rows. If the chair were place where she is standing, the kid would still be separated. This would be better than the first photo, but would still separate the kid, and thereby re-emphasize the separation.

Seating the kid on the bench removes the chair, but does position the kid with his classmates, which is the point of the revised photo.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you. In addition to your blog the writings of Kathie Snow of Disability is Natural certainly speak to what we want the world to accept; the human spectrum is wide and includes many types of people all of whom are fine just the way they are. It is the people who can't fathom that who should be the targets of our change advocacy.

Amy said...

Thank you for expressing exactly what I was thinking when I saw the second picture...

Kim Ayres said...

I am a photographer and it would be dead easy to construct a group photo around the wheelchair. You don't have to have it in the center, which would make it look like he was the prime focus of the image, but nor do you need it on the end, as an afterthought.

Front row, off centre. Perfect. Part of the group without making a song and dance about it.

Nan said...

Like stillfindsitsohard ... I was a parent volunteer at some of these (not this in particular!) photo sessions and I just made sure that we re-arranged things so the student using a wheelchair was in the middle or something like that. I don't exactly remember now, but I think I asked the student first (do you mind if we rearrange things so you can be closer to the middle?) and she said yes, and then all the kids helped and came up with ideas and then bingo... just a class photo. You would think school photographers would be used to it by now! And you'd think assistants and teachers would be used to speaking out by now or just modelling and mirroring inclusion. But we ain't there yet (sigh) so we just gotta keep plugging. No?

About the second picture? Not so sure. What did mom & student think?

Becca said...

Ohmygosh!!! I hadn't seen the 2nd one, and TOTALLY agree with you!! When I saw that article and read that they'd re-taken the photo, I was worried that they may do that. That's really disturbing. I can't understand why they couldn't just move everyone over to the left side of the platform, and have him in his wheelchair in front of the teacher standing there?? What is this teaching people?

Anonymous said...

Maybe he just wanted to sit on the bench with his friends. Maybe just for the moment he wanted to be just like everyone else. Yes, his disability is part of who he is, but it isn't all that he is.

Maybe, just maybe, we are reading much too much into this.

Kristine said...

Thank you, Andrea, and Stillfinditsohardto, it always means a lot to be heard and validated a bit. :)

And thank you, Dave, for your support, and creating a community here that's such a "safe space." I feel like my daily visits here have helped me to develop my own courage and compassion in facing the world, and I can't think of any other space on the internet that's so directly affected my character!

One more story: When I was 17, I went and had the traditional senior portraits taken. It was a fun day of changing outfits and posing in different locations. When we got the photos back, I was confused at why almost every shot was a close-up; you couldn't even tell when I'd changed from jeans to a skirt or whatever. I didn't get it until we picket out the photo that would appear in the yearbook, and the photographer offered, "We could photoshop out this bit of the chair that's showing here, so you can't see it." Oh. Now I got it. Every photo had been strategically taken to minimize/hide my chair. I refused the photoshop editing. And one of my biggest regrets is that I didn't refuse the entire package and demand our money back. (Sometimes I want to go back in time, and give that shy kid a backbone!) It still bothers me every time I visit my parents, and see those pictures on display.

Even if the kid is too young to read much into the class photo now, it's going to stick with him. The message, however subtle and well-intended, is that his chair is a problem. That bothers me.

I'm also guessing that this photo was the first time his classmates ever saw him out of the chair. He's clinging to the bench for balance. An extra teacher has appeared next to him, ready to catch him if he falls. It doesn't strike me as natural. They should have just put the kids in charge. When I was in 2nd grade, kids had no problem adapting. They'd frustrate their parents, insisting their birthday parties had to be in accessible locations. We'd make up rules on the playground to adapt our games so everyone could play. We didn't need any help from adults. Kids thought my wheelchair was cool.

All of that said, I do agree with Heidi that there's value sometimes in removing the equipment blockade. If the child is comfortable with it, and there's a time in the school day where it's appropriate, socializing in a way that encourages physical contact has definite value. But I'm sticking to my argument that this has never happened in the boy's classroom before. And it wasn't about socialization, it was about appearances.

Anonymous said...

i totally agree. Except to me, the first picture is not worse, it has some value over the second pic because it’s honest. An honest representation of how that community dealt with difference. Honest representations offer the opportunity to take a fresh look and think about it. The first pic is where it’s at and the departure point for change. The second pic is stifling change by presenting a supposed improvement and ‘it’s ok now’. I’d want the adults involved to have the first pic in their faces every day, maybe on the wall in the staff room, with a caption that captures the comment and offense, as a catalyst for change.

Barb Swartz said...

I agree that this sends a destructive message to the public who we are trying to educate. If the first picture had not been taken the boy would be the only person potentially sent the wrong message however in the article he seems quite happy about joining his friends on the bench.It's in the interpretation and the messages you are raised with around disability.

I also agree that sometimes we take things a bit far. Many people who use wheelchairs transfer out of them for various reasons, I don't find it offensive that a young boy who is accustomed to speding time both in and out of a wheelchair sit with his friends/classmates for a class photo. I have two questions: 1. what is the true feeling of the boy about sitting on the bench and 2. what did his Grade JK-1 class pictures look like?

We need to keep in mind that people who use wheelchairs are no different than us in the fact that we all share differing opinions about who we are, how we are identified etc. We are all human and while I respect your hard work in advocating for people in general Dave I think it is important that we not make any assumptions that all people who use wheelchairs would or should be offended.

Todd S. Jenkins said...

I couldn't disagree with you more. There is SO much more to this kid and his life than his means of mobility. He's a kid, not some odd little object propped up in a chair. For God's sake, let him feel like part of the class for the two minutes it took to get the second photo. If all we are is our level of ability to walk, why bother living? Yay for this kid and his class.

Kimberly said...

Whether or not this kid feels that he is a part of the class or needs to ditch his wheelchair to be included will not rest on how these two pictures are taken. It will happen on how he is treated in the classroom and in his life. His wheelchair may be an extension of him because he doesn't get around without it, but it isn't a part of him or what makes him who he is. As a mom, if the photographer had asked me if my child needed to be in the wheelchair for the picture, I think I would be offended and say no, not because I'm ashamed of the wheelchair or my child's need for it, but because the question would imply that my child needs the wheelchair even in a picture to be who he is, and if I were to say yes, would my child really thank me for forcing the wheelchair into the picture?

Lianna said...

First of all, I commend Miles' mom for speaking out. That took a lot of courage I bet. My son has two similar class photos, differing years with his little friend apart from his class. I've pointed this out to my husband but I've never said anything to teachers or the school principal. I do wonder if the parents are bothered by it.

(My son is in mainstream elementary school where there is a development disability classroom. In that classroom, there is a good number of children in wheel chairs.)

Secondly, I commend you, Dave, for writing about why NOT including Miles' chair in the second photo makes for the arguement that society still refuses to acknowledge that disability is NATURAL.

Whether there is agreement or not about whether Miles' should be in his chair in the retake, the very idea that PEOPLE ARE TALKING about these various concerns is essential! I'm happy that you've taken on this topic.

Personally, if the decision to sit without his chair was made by Miles and his mom, then I have absolutely no issue. Ultimately, what they have done to raise awareness is more than many of us try to do. However, natural inclusion is an important topic and it needs to be addressed.

I wished that my son's school would have "wheelchair tutorials/tours/races" so that ALL the children would have a sense of comfort and SEE the child first.

My niece had her class photo done at the beginning of the year (she attends the same school as my son) and the little boy in his chair was off to the side not so unlike Miles' photo, and when I asked her the boy's name, she did not know.

The lack of PEER identity for the children in the DD room at my son's school makes me angry. I've seen it over and over for the past four years but HOW can I take on this issue if the other parents don't?

If there ever was an opportunity to teach natural inclusion, it is now and in elementary school.

Whether a child is in a chair, sporting genetic physical characteristics of a disability, is uncommunicative, etc., the child is actually a LIVE HUMAN BEING.

And that is what I think the second class photo represents.

With or without his chair, we see Miles, the boy in his class photo.

helencs said...

Bit of creative thinking is all that's required. Where I live the print photos of all the new primary 1 classes in the local papers. for years the schools for children with intellectual disabilities were not included. after much protesting from parents they now are. this had required the photographers to get clever as these are not children who do sitting still on benches for photographs. my favourite last year was from a great school for children with severe ID and autism as they'd taken it in the ball pool in soft play so all the kids were happy & smiling. much nicer than a stuffy bench photo!

Anonymous said...

The first picture is awful. We have a daughter who has cerebral palsy and is in a wheelchair. The only caveat I would add to the second picture is that we don't know if the boy was asked if he wanted to sit in his wheelchair or on the bleachers (or what his parents wishes were). We always ask our daughter where she would like to sit. Sometimes she chooses to sit in her wheelchair for class pictures and sometimes she chooses to sit in another chair or on the bleachers. We leave it up to her and the school photographer has been accommodating either way. Just because he is not sitting in his wheelchair in the second picture does not mean that the chair is a natural excluder (or should be viewed or interpreted as such) it might just be the wishes of a little boy. Our daughter likes to be out of her wheelchair whenever she can, not because she is ashamed of it, but because she likes to show off and use the motor skills her body is developing.

Myrrien said...

I showed the first photo to my eight year old son and he thought it was terrible how the boy was being left out. But now in the second photo they have cured the problem - they have taken away the chair - after all this what was isolating him from being part of his peer group wasn't it?

Err no. I actually get annoyed by the "maybe this is what the child wanted" argument because all that does is blame the child for the mistakes of the adults around them - and if it was what he wanted wouldn't it have been suggested the first time around. Clearly this photographer has no imagination. My son - who has severe dyspraxia so spacial awareness is not his thing - could come up with an easy solution to the first photograph. I will show him the second tomorrow and see what he thinks.

Debby2 said...

Beautifully worded, Dave...the original injustice opened some good conversation however you bring out the important perspective around those involved's ineptitude at/disinterest in capturing a group of children from the same grade together. As a professional, the classroom teacher should haven taken some proactive leadership in preventing this child and his family from this overt exclusion. Are you serious about full inclusion in your classroom or are you are merely covering your professional ass each day and as this is the first time someone's brought up this particular oversight? Will there just be new 'procedure' written to address this or will we actually get better at instilling the idea of true inclusion in the minds of everyone.

Anonymous said...

I sometimes had to stifle my inner Wolfensberger and just let my daughter enjoy being with her friends. She usually didn't notice these things, and though I seethed I consciously let some things go. We've had pictures both ways. The one with the child on the bench is better. If the child is happy, let it be for today.

Anonymous said...

Like others here I agree with ya. I felt that way when I first saw it - and then wondered if I was being over-sensitive. Good to know I'm not alone - yet is it sad that it happened at all. I actually was thinking of forwarding this "situation" to you a bit ago Dave - perhaps fodder for lessons and speaking engagements, but then I thought you probably have way too much of this sort of cr*p already - not to mention incidents in your own life - so I didn't. I too can think of many creative solutions. I too felt taking him out of a chair and also giving him his aide was defeating the purpose. I was not only upset at the photographer - but the teacher and the teacher's aide. Hey - this young fellow has been in the class all year - have they not learned anything???? I hope only good comes out of this. I hope it doesn't mar the young boy. I hope people learn something. Inclusion doesn't mean making others like us - it means accepting them the way they are.

Purpletta said...

Once again a topic that is so important for discussion-- thank you & I agree with you completely... The only reserve I had was that I thought that perhaps Miles chose that spot, wanted to transfer to the bleachers & read that his dad had helped make that arrangement. The issue I have with that though is not that he transferred but that he wasn't given a choice initially & this "choice" was one clouded by what had just occurred and from the looks of the second picture an arrangement that no one at the school really jumped in to improve.
What saddens me most is that things aren't different on picture day - if anything they may be more polished... *This* is the image the school has chosen to represent this class. Our glossy print is of segregation and exclusion.
So when the kids are back in the classroom after all is over today, where will Miles be? When his classmates go outside for recess, or everyone lines up to pick up their lunch trays, or the group goes on a class trip to the zoo... Where will Miles be? Will he be as much a part of the group as each of the other kids or will he be set apart?
What would be much nicer than this retake of the picture would be a commitment of the school to invite in some advocates to train the teachers on inclusion, respect, and rights.
Barb, I can only speak for myself but I don't think anyone was trying to suggest that it is offensive that the boy was on the bleachers, nor that anyone would think that everyone who is a wheelchair user would feel the same way or need to feel the same way as other wheelchair users about any thing. However i have to strongly disagree with your statement that if only the second picture had been taken the boy who uses the wheelchair would be the only one "potentially" sent the wrong message. On the contrary the other kids in this class are learning how to relate to people & if the example set is that the way for this boy who uses a wheelcahair to get to be with his peers in a class picture is for his father to come to school to help and for him to give up his wheelchair which he has used for every moment of the school day otherwise in order to sit like everyone else...that would send the wrong message to the other students as well, to the father, and frankly to anyone else involved.
From another perspective, I was surprised to read in comments on a different site that some people were seeing being part of the bleachers as 'cool,' and thus didn't want the young man to lose out. I don't have an issue with the student transferring to the bleachers if he wished to do that, but what is being said is that he sits in the couch sometimes at home, but no mention of him out of his chair at school. So why is it that the first time needs to be for some elaborate display.
Several people have suggested letting the kids come up with a plan & I second that. In part that may be more meaningful for Miles but also for the other students. And it probably would result in a better solution :-)
Kristine, I am so sorry that someone would lack compassion & frankly be both rude and clearly wrong. It is not by far too sensitive to react to being treated unjustly. Thank you for trusting us here enough to share your stories. I learn a lot from you as I do from many other people who comment on this blog.
Thank you for all, Dave!
Purpletta

mary clare carlson said...

Thanks for having the courage to go beyond the 'mainstream' media approach and truly get us all thinking about the messages that both photos convey

Dave Hingsburger said...

Thank you all so much, this post has generated a lot of discussion both here on the blog and in repost after repost in Facebook and in several other forums across the internet. This is what social media is for - to give us a forum to discuss, to disagree and to learn from each other's points of view. I thank you all for being respectful of all points of view. I want this always to be a safe place for people to talk, even heatedly, about important topics.

Anonymous said...

There was a statement released by Mile's father that states that in the second photo Miles was seated with his class at his choice, and that it was his son's choice to make. He also states that this was the choice Miles made in previous class pictures, and that they support his right to choose. The long posts about the insidious nature of the second picture seem like a moot point. His dad acknowledges that people will politicize this choice, but that it is Mile's choice to make. Personally, I think we should respect that choice and stop using it as a talking point in the disability rights agenda. The first picture was awful. The second picture was composed to the satisfaction of Miles and apparently his family.

Dave Hingsburger said...

Anon, it is, of course, Miles, choice to make. However, until your comment, the only things I have read have been that the decision was made with input from his parents - nothing had ever been said about the boy himself. I'd read that he'd been kept out of the loop with all the uproar (inadvisable given every other kid in the class would know)and his choice had not been indicated. Could you provide a link to this quote from his dad? Secondly, the pictures were put out there for reaction ... the first was released by the family and was up for public dicussion. The second was also released and yes, we as disabled people, have a right to comment and discuss. As annoying as these voices seem to be to you.

Anonymous said...

Both pictures look bad for said reasons, I agree, I have some pictures very similar to the first one with me in it. (The difference was that I was not leaning in my wheelchair towards the other kids, trying to fit in, I felt so excluded in my class that I would have preferred not to be in that picture at all). In the second picture I see all kids neatly fold their hands except for the disabled boy. That makes me wonder why as well? Is he treated differently (I would not be surprised given the original picture), or can't he sit otherwise? I don't know if the second picture was an attempt to try to hide his disability, perhaps it was just easier to group them together without the bulky wheelchair. In the end I do not see my wheelchair as a part of me, and I will easily get out of it as well sometimes, when it comes to group pictures I will sometimes be in my chair and sometimes I sit somehwere else.

Tim from The Netherlands

Jennifer Nealon said...

I spent a good long time, studying the second picture trying to figure out how they had managed to so subtly arrange the rest of the class nearer to the boy using the wheelchair without moving the benches. I was more than a little shocked when I realized he had been taken out of his wheelchair entirely.
When I first started out at my job, young and without any experience I was reminded frequently about how inappropriate it is to use someone's wheelchair as a 'prop'; it's not something to lean on or hang your purse from...it's an extension of someone's body. The idea that removing this boy from his wheelchair makes him 'fit in' better seems outrageous to me. Would they put a 'fat kid' (that was me when I was in grade school) in a girdle to 'fit in' the picture better? Or make all the kids with glasses take them off? Of course not. This should be no different.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dave--this is the quote I referenced, found in Newsmax and other periodicals:

"Ambridge, who lives in New Westminster, British Columbia, said he has been overwhelmed by the public's response. He also understands why some have questioned the decision to take Miles out of his wheelchair for the shot.

"But that's his decision to make, not others," Don Ambridge said. "When we get home from school, the first thing he wants to do is go hang out on the couch and maybe play some Wii, maybe read a book. He wants to take a break from the chair. I think there's an easy tendency to really politicize this from different angles.

"At the end of the day, if this helps people understand a little bit more about having that awareness, then it's a win for everyone."