Miles Ambridge sits in his wheelchair, pushed far off to the side of his 22 second-grade classmates at Herbert Spencer Elementary in New Westminster, B.C. With a huge smile lighting up his face, Ambridge leans toward his peers, trying to be a part of the group.
“Look at the angle that he was in,” Ambridge’s mother told Yahoo News. “He’s ostracized. He wants to be part of the gang so much.”
Belanger doesn’t blame the school for what she sees as an act of discrimination. Instead she thinks the photography company Lifetouch Canada and their staff who positioned the children are at fault. She recognizes that her son’s placement wasn’t intentional or an act of malice, but she thinks the photographers made an egregious mistake. The Westminster mom was driven to speak up and filed complaints with the company and spoke with local press.
“I’m not on a warpath,” Belanger told the Westminster Province. “I just want to bring awareness that this was not acceptable.
“Kids can be cruel but this comes from adults, which is even worse,” she added. “Adults should know better.”
The image has since gone viral and news sites across the globe have covered the story.
Ambridge was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) at 13 months and ever since he has required help with moving around. SMA is a genetic disease that attacks nerve cells in the spinal cord, leading to a weakening of the muscles. Belanger and her husband Don Ambridge say their son has been nothing but a trooper and is a remarkably happy child.
“For some reason it makes me feel even worse that he’s so happy in the picture,” Don Ambridge told the Province. “I think it’s because he’s still innocent . . . He’s still naive to how other people can treat him.”
Lifetouch qresponded to Belanger’s complaints, apologizing to the family and retaking the class photo.
Reactions to the situation have been mixed. While Belanger says she has received messages of sympathy from people all over the world, some commenters on news sites have said the parents are overreacting.
“I am very sorry yet I think the mother is over reacting . . . ” Sharon wrote on the Yahoo News site. “The child looks very happy..and that is what really counts.”
“That’s the spirit Miles!!!” Julena chimed in on Yahoo. “Photographer made a mistake, but mistakes happen. In my opinion, mum made a mistake, too. Miles wanted this picture, he posed for it with his most adorable smile, no matter he was secluded, and she still returned it. Her heart was broken, not his. If your kid is stronger than you and doesn’t care about such incidents don’t bother him/her with your personal pain and anger. If he is not hurt, don’t remind him that he should be hurt by such incidents, because eventually you will convince him, and very soon the happiest kid in the world will turn into a depressive pessimist. Learn from Miles.”
No matter, I think the photography companies that take class photos will learn from this situation and in the future I’m sure they’ll take more care when they’re photographing a class with a student in a wheelchair.