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Viral Photo Sparks Debate About Inclusion

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A second grade class photo is stirring outrage online after a student who uses a wheelchair was depicted sitting apart from his peers.

In the image, students from the Herbert Spencer Elementary in New Westminster, British Columbia are posed in three, neat rows with their teacher. Miles Ambridge, however, is seated in his wheelchair off to the side with a visible gap dividing him from his classmates. The boy who has spinal muscular atrophy — a genetic condition that weakens the muscles — is seen leaning toward the other children with a smile on his face.

“He’s ostracized. He wants to be part of the gang so much,” Ambridge’s mother told The Province about the photo, which has since gone viral online.

Though initially Lifetouch Canada, the photography company responsible for the photo, said they saw nothing wrong, they later agreed to retake the picture and told the newspaper that the incident would be a “learning experience” for the photographer.

In a statement posted to the company’s Facebook page Tuesday, they said that a new class photo has been delivered to the family.

“Lifetouch believes all students should be treated with respect and train our photographers accordingly. We made a mistake at Herbert Spencer elementary, but it was never intentional,” the statement said.

Ambridge’s parents said they’ve received messages of support from all over the world.

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Comments (16 Responses)

  1. Melodie Licht says:

    Very happy to see Lifetouch used this as a lesson and a learning experience and rectified the situation. This is something we must all remind ourselves of, as we all get caught up in the moment and quite often fail to consider the whole picture (no pun intended.) In many cases these moments are not on purpose – - it just takes one wise person to point it out so everyone realizes that everyone needs inclusion; no matter who, no matter what, no matter when, and no matter where! Thank you for sharing because it is also a reminder for me! :)

  2. Connie Popp says:

    Unfortunately this is not a rare occurrence. I work for a company who helps support adults in their homes. The man whom I help support is the only person in their organization who utilizes a wheelchair. I accompanied this fellow on a group outing that our company organized to the ballpark in Pittsburgh. It was an awful ordeal. By the time we reached our seats we were already separated from the folks we came with and were out of sorts due to the challenge of navigating a wheelchair through the crowd (in which most people did not seem to see us trying desperately to make our way through). Thank goodness for the one attendant who escorted us through the crowd.

    When we arrived at our seats it was apparent that we would not be with our group since there was no access or seating where they were. We sat below our group, feeling alone, isolated, and a bit bummed out. It was disappointing and demeaning. I would not opt to put anyone through that again.

    This has also happened at movie theaters and at restaurants. Even the front sidewalk where this man lives does not have a wheelchair ramp to the curb – so he can’t go off the sidewalk if he goes out front of his own home. There is definitely something wrong with this picture.
    Thanks for sharing this story. The public needs to be aware. Hopefully change will continue.

  3. Marcy Ryan says:

    I am severely physically disabled and find that this is not the first incident I have know of where a child with a disability is set apart from his peers, in class photos, music assembly’s and graduations. This is not to be tolerated in this day and age, I went through this as a child and feel enough time has passed that we need to be more educated and understanding that myself and my peers want to be accepted fully into society not off to the side in any setting!!

  4. DeeDee says:

    Have you seen a copy of the picture? Lifetouch is the go to school photographer for schools/colleges around this country, and makes a ton of money from our families each year as we write our checks to the organization. There is no excuse for this to happen. That little child craning his head and body toward the rest of the class. How sad. And what about the teacher? How could she not see what was going on here? No excuse at all for this to happen. Go find a copy of the picture since one was not shown here.

  5. Paul says:

    I viewed the photo and read the story that accompanied it. My reaction to the picture was probably typical but as I read the story, I realized that the photographer may have made an honest and innocent mistake and would hope the smiling faces and story about the student having so many friends in his class more telling of inclusion than the photo alone might depict. To the photographers credit, the adult teacher is opposite the book-end like wheel chair and student seated in it, whom in a similar way, may have much to offer his classmates.

  6. Jane says:

    This is why I always accompanied my son to his pictures…….he eventually didn’t like it and learned to use his own voice but you can be sure, many institutions learned to include him. Now, being turned away from the bus trip to Sea World being told we should drive behind in our own car……that’s a different story. :-( We, the parents, have the experience and no-how to reposition and help through these challenging situations for those unfamiliar with the equipment.

  7. Anne Treimanis says:

    As an attorney whose practice is limited to special education cases, I have had cases in which the student with a disability is excluded from the photo. Sometimes students with disabilities are devalued members of the school.

  8. Dolores says:

    I agree with Paul. The look on the child’s face shows his happiness to be with his classmates. I worked as the caregiver in inclusion classes and have found that the other students are caring, considerate, and loving to the inclusive child. This was the case in the grades K to 5 in the school where I was employed. It restored my faith in our younger generations. The photographers who come to schools are not psychologists and it is very hard to get an entire class of little ones to look into the camera and stay in position. Also, the teacher is on the other end and is not aware of the distance this boy is from the group. The children are standing on a bench in the back and he could have been in the place where he is for safety reasons. If anyone fell on him, he could be hurt and the falling child could be hurt. This is a possibility because kids push and horse around all the time. Another thing that struck my mind is that he may have moved himself since it looks like he has an electric wheelchair.
    I cannot agree with the parents who say this is “discrimination and a reflection of a society that attaches a stigma to disabilities. Isn’t it that same society that passes laws and pays taxes that provide inclusion and all the services that this child and others needs to lead a full life?

  9. Sandi says:

    I am a parent of a young adult who has quite a few school pictures just like this one. I thank the parents for having the courage to bring this to the publics attention. It is only through sharing our perspectives that allow the world to understand!!!

  10. Autismmom says:

    I agree that this photograph was very hurtful to the boy and his family and now serves as another ” learning opportunity.” LifeTouch has apparently delivered a new photo to the family. Have they delivered a new photo to everyone in the class and the teacher too so Miles is truly included?

  11. Duncan Edwards says:

    I posted this picture on tumblr and there were some really sad comments from people who had experienced this at their own schools. Photographers need to be made aware and I am sure that many will be much more aware after this publicity.

  12. Becky says:

    My spouse uses a power wheelchair and has for most of our 27 years of marriage. Most times, when we take a family trip with our three daughters, we are separated at some venue because the seating won’t accommodate a wheelchair. Just because it happens so often doesn’t mean you get used to it. We always pay the same price as everyone else for the tickets, as well. We can’t visit most of our friends houses because of inaccessibility.Even with the advances since the Americans with Disabilities Act, society is not accommodating, and this is a problem that will only increase as the population ages.All people need to be aware and advocate for equal access for all citizens.

  13. Chester says:

    I urge you to be cautious about making large generalizations based on limited information about a single incident. It is easy to jump on the bandwagon and be righteous, but that doesn’t make it right. Take the time to find out more about the situation (where does the child sit in class? how do the peers interact with him? Did he move his chair there? etc) and be sure you understand the big picture before casting sweeping judgments on the photo company, the classroom or on society based on a snapshot. Perhaps there IS an underlying systemic problem going on… or perhaps it is an isolated faux pas. But, playing judge and jury on an entire “system” before you have taking the time to know one way or the other harkens back to mentality society showed in the days we condemned women who didn’t sink when thrown in the lake as witches who were then burned them at the stake.

  14. Paul says:

    I felt I out to circle back and read others comments about the matter and add to my initial reaction and comments what I learned. It’s understandable that the image would convey a message of being excluded from the class, especially if one has been conditioned by experience in having it happen. The parents of the child must have felt strongly enough about it to raise it as an issue despite the encouraging part of the story in the was his peers relate as class mates. I like that the boy has an electric chair and the freedom to command movement of it in support of the photographer’s direction or for his own sense of comfort. I wonder about exercising caution in causing others including especially the 5th grader to see something that might not be his reality. I respect the parents as they are closest to the situation. I would however ask if being to close is possible. The press on the issue seems controversial and to be honest, a bit coercive. I wonder what Lifetouch would have been willing to do given another approach in drawing into question an issue of inclusion. I also had not considered the issue of accessibility as it is not apparent from the photo. Thankfully, the blue signs designating wheel chair access are more prevalent today than ever.

  15. Jorno says:

    Attitudinal Barriers are often the most difficult obstacles for people with disabilities, but we mustn’t be militant or too judgmental in addressing them. Most people are just unaware or don’t know how to include people they don’t often come across in their everyday life. But that’s changing slowly but surely, thanks to policy and laws of inclusion. This photo shows that as a society, we have far to go. The positive side of this photo is the realization that our culture needs education and information on seeing the person first and not the disability. But please don’t be so quick to judge the teacher and photographer. This is something we all do. Most of the time we don’t even realize that we’re doing it. In my opinion, kudos go to Miles Ambridge for doing an awesome job. Miles Ambridge is a fine individual who knows how to handle a difficult situation with poise. Who is Miles Ambridge you ask? He’s more commonly known as that kid who uses a wheelchair.

  16. the.sound.of.the.silent says:

    I’m going to go out on a limb here: This “outrage” is an absurdity.
    As the mother of a child with profound physical and mental disabilities, I am painfully aware of the challenges that entails. But many children with disabilities are at risk of abuse and murder; and so many more are denied access to adequate therapies, education, specialized equipment and aides.
    Shouldn’t we choose our battles and focus our energy on the real issues?
    Besides: was the photographer at fault for failing to transfer Miles from his wheelchair to the bench and to arrange for a caregiver to support him there? (That was the “solution” implemented when the photo was retaken.
    Moreover, Miles’ wheelchair is clearly positioned as close to the bench as it could get.
    I just don’t get this scapegoating of the photographer.

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