Anne Belanger was heartbroken when she discovered her son had been placed off to the side in his class photo. “I couldn’t comprehend how the photographer could look through the lens and think that this was good composition . . . this just boggled the mind,” she said. In the photo, the class is arranged in three rows, with the teacher standing on the left.
To the far right is 7-year-old son Miles Ambridge. He’s leaning from his wheelchair, an empty space separating him from his classmates. “Being picked on and being set aside is horrendous and this was what was happening,” said Belanger, of New Westminster, British Columbia, Canada. Looking at the photo, she said questioned why nothing was done or discussed in trying to include Miles in the picture. “The only alternative seemed to be to set him aside,” Belanger said.
She said that being in a wheelchair comes with an additional set of challenges for Miles, who was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy at 13 months, a genetic disease that attacks nerve cells in the spinal cord. Miles’ father Don Ambridge, who saw the photo first, was disgusted and appalled and demanded that Herbert Spencer Elementary School ask the company to retake the picture. Belanger said discrimination is still a daily reality for people with disabilities and she wanted to shed light on the stigma surrounding it.
“This was not a malicious act, I don’t think it was done on purpose. I just don’t think there was any rational thinking behind it,” Belanger said. Miles’ parents have opted not to show the photo to their son. Belanger said Miles is “aware that he’s different, he’s aware that he’s in a wheelchair” and they were trying their best not to hurt his feelings. A spokesman for the school could not be reached for comment.