A new Target ad featuring a girl with a disability is getting an outpouring of support from parents applauding the retailer for including kids with special needs in its campaign.
The advertisement, included in Target’s weekly mailer, shows a number of kids wearing different Halloween costumes. One of the children is a young girl with leg braces, dressed as Frozen’s Queen Elsa. It was a casting decision that didn’t go unnoticed by Jen Spickenagel Kroll, who posted a note on Facebook thanking the store.
“Dear Target, I love you,” Kroll wrote. “Thank you for including a child with braces and arm crutches into your advertising campaign! And as Elsa, no less! My daughter (with arm crutches and prostethic legs) is going to FLIP when she see this! Including children with special needs into advertising makes them less of a spectacle to the general public when they venture out into the real world. Normalizing disabilities in children is PRICELESS.”
Jen Kroll’s daughter, Jerrensia, has prosthetic legs and arm crutches. (Photo: Jen Kroll)
Her post, which was originally written on Oct. 18, has been shared more than 5,600 times, and her sentiment has been echoed all over social media. “As a person with a disability who used to model, this makes me so happy!” wrote one Twitter user. Another wrote “very cool to see @Target normalizing differently abled children!” One user tweeted the ad, including the hashtag #representationmatters.
In a statement provided to Yahoo Parenting, Target responded to the flood of feedback by saying: “At Target, our core beliefs of diversity and inclusivity are reflected in our advertising and in our business overall. We’ve included people with disabilities in our advertising for more than 25 years and are humbled by the support we’ve received recently. We look forward to a day when diversity of all types in advertising is no longer a topic of discussion, but a way of life.”
The retailer enjoyed similar attention in 2012, after running an ad featuring a child with Down Syndrome. It also got a lot of praise for a decision earlier this year to stop giving gender labels to children’s toys and bedding.
Jen Kroll, who wasn’t available to speak to Yahoo Parenting, told Upworthy that the advertisement would not only help her daughter see herself in mainstream culture, but that it would help others finally notice her daughter. “When I saw Target place a child with Spina Bifida front and center, advertising Disney’s sweetheart, Elsa, it brought me to tears,“ she said. "This little girl was no longer invisible. Arm crutches and leg braces were demystified. Target made an effort to make her a part of mainstream culture. Not as an object lesson, but as a beautiful child with a great smile who was clearly excited about being Elsa.”
Kroll’s daughter, Jerrensia, came to their family on a medical visa from Haiti in 2011, when she was only 14 months old, she told Upworthy. “Her hip sockets never formed properly, [her] knees were locked at a 90 degree angle, [her] feet were clubbed, and she lacked nearly all muscle tone in her legs,” Kroll explained. After two years of physical therapy, “despite innovative orthotics, we made the difficult decision to amputate her legs through the knees.” It ended up being the right choice for Jerrensia, Kroll said, who is now a very active 5-year-old. When she saw the ad, Kroll says Jerrensia was thrilled. “Wow! Just like me!” the little girl said.
Paula Goldberg, executive director of PACER, an advocacy center for children with disabilities and their parents, says this kind of representation in advertising is necessary. “There are 6.5 million children in the US who have disabilities and receive special education services,” Goldberg tells Yahoo Parenting. “It’s important that these children are included in all ways. It’s says that they are just like any other children.”
Advertisements like Target’s are also meaningful for children without special needs, Goldberg says. “Siblings of kids with disabilities, relatives, kids whose friends have special needs, all of them need to see this too,” she explains. “When you start with these representations at a young age, like the picture of this girl dressed as Elsa, children will see it as perfectly normal. These children may be in their classroom. So for them, it’s really important.” The same is true, Goldberg says, for parents and teachers.
But there is still room for improvement. “We need more of it,” she says. “I know Target has done this before, but I don’t think it’s common. Whether it’s Down Syndrome or children with physical disabilities, it’s important that they are represented as a part of every aspect of life, and we have a ways to go to continue this inclusion of both children and adults with special needs.”
Kroll says the ad opened a whole new world to her daughter. “In mainstream culture, perfection is valued. Special needs families exist in a subculture,” she told Upworthy. “A Target ad with one precious little girl dressed as Elsa met [my daughter] where she was and made the world a little more beautiful and friendly.”