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How a wheelchair-bound B.C. boy got excluded from his class photo

Class photos are often unremarkable – if a little kitschy – and destined to land in a drawer to be forgotten. For one couple in New Westminster, B.C., though, this year's class photo was anything but forgettable. It depicted Anne Belanger and Don Ambridge's son, Miles Ambridge, who uses a wheelchair – sitting a good few feet from the rest of his grade two classmates.

Miles has spinal muscular atrophy, which causes a weakening of his muscles. The disease does not affect cognitive abilities, Thandi Fletcher of the Province reports.

The real heart-breaker? As Fletcher writes, "the seven-year-old beams for the camera, craning as far to the side as his tiny body will allow to be closer to his friends."

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Don Ambridge told Fletcher that his son's big smile made the exclusion all the more painful.

"For some reason it makes me feel even worse that he's so happy in the picture," he said. "I think it's because he's still innocent. … He's still naive to how other people can treat him."

Although Miles has not seen the photo, his parents have been working to correct the problem with the school and the photography company. They wanted to share their story to "shed light on discrimination, which they said is still a daily reality for people with disabilities," reports Fletcher. Indeed even this particular scenario is not uncommon.

Both Miles' parents and the school principal contacted the company, which at first didn't immediately see a problem with the photo. They later agreed to reshoot the photo. The school appears to be taking no responsibility for the posing of the kids – Miles' teacher said she couldn't see the gap from where she was standing.

Apparently in the new photo, which the parents have not yet seen, Miles was taken out of his wheelchair and supported by a caregiver on a bench with his classmates, reports Fletcher.

On Thursday, Dean Cochrane, manager for the Lifetouch Canada office in Burnaby, told Fletcher that the company teaches its photographers to compose photos differently when working with people in wheelchairs. "On this composition, it wasn't done right," he said. "This will be a learning experience for this photographer."

(And not that it's possible during class photos, but here's a glimpse of some photographic creativity from the other end of the spectrum)

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Here's hoping Miles loves the new photo when it arrives. Amid many thoughtful online comments about discrimination that accompany the piece, perhaps the best one alludes to how new Miles fans are hoping for a happy outcome: As Derrick MacKenzie of Vancouver writes, "Such a cute kid!! Keep on smiling!!"

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About the Author

Tralee Pearce has been a reporter at The Globe and Mail since 1999, starting as a writer in the paper’s Style section. She joined the new Life section for its launch in 2007. She covers parenting and family issues for the daily section. More


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