WEST MINISTER, B.C. –Don Ambridge and Anne Belanger said they could hardly look at their son Miles’ class photo from Herbert Spencer Elementary when it arrived last month, according to The Providence.
In the photo, the students and teacher are neatly lined up in three rows. But Miles, who is confined to a wheelchair, is placed off to the far right edge, separate from his classmates. The 7-year-old is clearly seen leaning his body to the side in an attempt to be closer to his friends.
The physical distance emphasizes the fact that he’s not included in the group, said Belanger.
“Look at the angle that he was in,” she said with tears in her eyes. “He’s ostracized. He wants to be part of the gang so much.”
Miles was diagnosed with muscular atrophy at 13 months. The degenerative condition is caused by a genetic disease that attacks nerve cells in the spinal cord, causing muscles throughout the body to weaken. The disease has no effect on cognitive abilities.
Miles has already faced more challenges in his life than most adults do in a lifetime, and all with a smile on his face, according to his father Don Ambridge.
Ambridge told the news site the photo made him feel humiliated for his son.
“For some reason it makes me feel worse that he’s so happy in the picture,” he said. “I think it’s because he’s still innocent… He’s still naïve to how other people can treat him.”
“It broke my heart,” Ambridge said in a separate interview on CBC Radio One’s On the Coast.
Mile’s parents, incensed and hurt by the insensitive photo, contacted the school and photography company to request a reshoot.
Principal Tracy Fulton said no one at the school had seen the photo before Miles’ father had sent it back. At the time of the photo shoot, Fulton said Miles’ teacher could not see the distinct gap between him and the rest of the class from her position on the left.
According to the news site, the photography company, Lifetouch Canada, didn’t immediately see anything wrong with the picture, but after some “coaxing” ultimately agreed to a reshoot.
Last Thursday, Lifetouch admitted their photographer made a mistake.
Dean Cochrane, a manager for the company, said photographers are taught to build different compositions of photos when they work with individuals in wheelchairs.
“On this composition, it wasn’t done right,” he said. “This will be a learning experience for this photographer.”
The photo was retaken last week by another Lifetouch photographer. In the new photo, Miles was removed from his wheelchair and supported by a caregiver on a bench beside his classmates, reports the news site.
Miles’ story has drawn worldwide attention. His father said he just wants people to be aware of the challenges individuals with disabilities face every day.
“Be sensitive to our differences, but don’t highlight those differences, accommodate them.”