The tagline on Hallel’s Facebook Timeline reads, “I am Hallel. I have Down Syndrome. I am not Down Syndrome. I am Hallel.” It wasn’t fundamentally Markowitz’s vision for Hallel to become a model, even though she did recognise it as a means toward normalising global feedback and recognition of people with disabilities.
And now Markowitz’s idea has become a realisation since Hallel and many other Israeli children with disabilities and special needs recently modelled for the Summer 2017 collection of Select Fashion, an Israeli children’s clothing label.
Select Fashion companioned with Beyachad, an Israeli organisation pushing for inclusion for people with disabilities. This seems like it’s the inception of something unique which should put a lead to a business criterion in which companies would employ people with special needs as models, just like anybody else.
Select Fashion wasn’t Markowitz’s first victory including models with special needs in an ad campaign. Her pilot was with Skye Green, a regional boutique designer for teens, which used a model with special needs in a video campaign.
It was a triumph, but it was a boutique, and they wanted something that was widespread. Markowitz hadn’t gone the modelling route for her three older children, but with the birth of Hallel, she decided that the world encompassing her required some knowledge with respect to recognising people with special needs.
When Hallel was born, she understood, like any parent with a child with special needs, that her child was incredible, however, the world was the obstacle. It’s about stupidity and intolerance and people who never confront people with special needs.
As Hallel’s parent, she knew that a huge part of the problem was that people with special needs are not in public focus. It came on faster for her, perhaps since she was really in harmony with the media. The most important position to have perceptibility is the media, whether it’s adverts or commercials or the performance world on the TV or PC, people with special needs are not there.
At around the time of Hallel’s birth, models with special needs were first being used in campaigns in the United States and England, a normalisation that Markowitz perceived as remarkably important.
Consequently, she put up the Facebook page but got a huge empty acknowledgement from businesses she contacted. One modelling company did contract Hallel, and she was selected to perform on one episode of a local show.
However, she didn’t have the opportunity or strength to launch it any further.
However, she made contact with inclusion organisation Beyachad, Count Me In, which then contracted public relations agent Chen Krupnik to pursue the modelling angle, and ultimately made the association with Select Fashion.
She’s still got hopes for Hallel, and for anybody else with special needs or disabilities. Her desire is to see an enormous billboard on the Ayalon.
It’s every little girl’s dream to have her name up on a billboard, it’s an illustration of who they are. These kids are not abnormal, strange or odd and they are not the excrement of society and they unquestionably do not require anybody’s approval.
From the minute they are born, they are exceptional like all children however their chances are not perceived in a favourable light but this parent has embraced the day and has celebrated her daughter’s ability to do something great with her life, where others would find fault.
Jane McCready is used to her 10-year-old son being gawped at as if he were a sideshow oddity but she will never be reconciled to it. Children are one thing, they don’t know any better. But these are grown-ups. They look at her son and their mouths drop open and they simply gawk.
Johnny has severe autism and learning disabilities. He looks like any other kid, but he behaves strangely, for instance, he might sit banging two playthings collectively and he sometimes makes unusual sounds.
Particularly when he was younger, he might have a huge meltdown, at the supermarket checkout. His mother would feel 300 pairs of eyes on them, all watching them, all judging them for being disruptive and challenging.
The saddest day was when, at the swimming pool, another mother drew her child away from Johnny as if he had something catching.
This is what they are up against when you have a kid with special needs, other people tend not to be particularly sympathetic. Which is especially awful because these parents have already got so much on their plate as it is.
The odds appear stacked against them, and if people just gave them a little scope and assistance, it would go a long way. But the opposite is more often the problem. They’re struggling to begin with, then people beat them down further.
They make assumptions, they treat the child as though he or she is dangerous or badly behaved. It’s soul crushing. It’s so sad, so difficult to deal with, and she has friends with special needs children who don’t even take them out any more.
The fact is that it’s amazingly difficult to have a kid with a special need such as ADHD or autism. In some instances, it’s a 24/7 job and to have to suffer the unfairness of others on top of that is just too much.
There’s a strong feeling that how we look after our most defenceless tells us a lot about our culture and you don’t get much more vulnerable than kids with special needs. So we must up our act a bit, as a community.
To that end, Mumsnet launched This is My Child, a campaign directed at getting us all to reflect a little more about the realities of life for families with kids who have special needs and to check our behaviour respectively.
A little help goes a long way. One time Johnny was melting down and this lady approached his mother. She thought she was going to complain, you get people who say things like, all he needs is a good slap.
When she said ‘What can I do to help, dear?’ Johnny’s mother could have hugged her. It must have taken some courage for her to do it, but it made such a difference to her. She felt somebody was on her side rather than the normal wall of resentment.
Claire Champkin, 40, who lives in Twickenham, Surrey, knows exactly how Jane feels. She says the greatest frustration about life with six-year-old Toby is the cynical opinions of others. Her son has moderate-to-severe autism and is mainly non-verbal, but dealing with the realities of his condition pale next to dispensing with the unkindness she meets from strangers who determine for themselves that he is just a badly behaved kid with an imperfect mother.
One day they were in the park, and a father who was sitting on a bench shifted his glasses down to the end of his nose and sat there gawking at Toby in apparent condemnation.
What do people think gives them the license to act that way? And the twist is, they believe they’re making a determination on that child’s bad conduct.
Amanda Marlow, 43, who lives in Milton Keynes, says she has endured by developing a skin so thick she questions anyone’s condemnation could penetrate it. She has four children, twins Elizabeth and James, 13, Oliver, seven, and Alex, six. Elizabeth has Treacher Collins syndrome, which causes craniofacial abnormalities, James has Asperger’s syndrome and Alex has severe autism.
What she would like people to realise, is that these are her children. This is her life. It’s not a bed of roses, but she strives to make the best of every day. What would be helpful is if people were patient and thoughtful once in a while, and gave them a little space.
These mothers are dealing with problems that most people haven’t got a clue about, and it’s interfering when they get somebody coming up to them saying, he needs a clip round the ear when one of them has an outburst.
The problem is, people gawk and it’s not right to stare, not continuously anyhow. It’s okay to look and then recognise that child has a disability, then all they have to do is look elsewhere, but they don’t have to keep gawping.
People don’t have to direct interrogations about what’s wrong with the child either, it’s really not their concern, alternatively, a kind word would not go astray and some help.
It’s not a tragedy, that a child has a disability. They don’t want pity, they’re quite happy to get on with their lives. They dislike people calling them exceptional or presuming they somehow have special qualities that allow them to deal with this.
They cope because they have to, and that’s what anybody would do. Calling them exceptional or alluding to their excellent qualities makes them different, sets them apart, and they don’t want that at all. What is further troublesome to numerous parents is when other people take it on themselves to reassure them that all will be well. They get that all the time.
The other thing they frequently say is how beautiful and adorable the child is as if that is somehow inconsistent with a disability. The people they value most are those who simply treat them as they would any other family.
It’s nice when people meet them and they attempt to engage with the child, simply as they would any other child. What they don’t need is sympathy, because they’re hugely proud of their children and all they have accomplished. These children the centre of their world and the idea that people exhibit sympathy is just so misplaced.
There are about 770,000 disabled kids in the United Kingdom and, their parents warrant better. A lot of it is about building knowledge about the reality of their situation and breaking some of the various myths.
There’s a myth that some disorders, such as autism and ADHD, are a popular justification for bad behaviour and bad parenting. Wrong, these conditions are genuine and disabling and it is disturbing that the parents and families of those with them are branded.
Another myth is that kids with disabilities are given the help they require. In fact, there is little help there, they have to struggle for everything they’re given and how long it takes even to get their child’s condition diagnosed.
Another myth is that language around disability doesn’t matter. You get a lot of people who use words like retard and mong and for some reason, that’s permitted, whilst language that’s discriminatory or sexist or homophobic unquestionably wouldn’t be.
It’s hurtful to families where there are disabilities, and now we must clamp down on it. You can’t always recognise when somebody has a disability. Respond thoughtfully, not judgmentally.
Don’t make hypotheses about a child’s potential based on a label. People with disabilities have a spectrum of abilities, just like anybody else. If people appear to be struggling, ask: “How can I help?” or “What do you need?”
Responding “at least it’s not cancer” is not helpful. If there is a child with a disability in your child’s class, invite him or her over to a playdate, or include him or her on the birthday party list. Too many parents of children with special needs children say their children miss out on peer pursuits.
And one last time, don’t gawk. Really. Just don’t.