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Most parents love to see the class photos of their children at this time of year.
But one family was emotionally devastated when members viewed the picture of their son, 7-year-old Miles Ambridge, of New Westminster, B.C.
“It broke my heart,” said Miles’ father, Don Ambridge, who lamented to CBC Radio, “He’s leaning in, he wants to be included.”
“It’s a mix of humiliation for your little guy and sadness and you know, a little bit of anger. The problem is where do you put that anger?”
Miles suffers from spinal muscular atrophy, a genetic disease that attacks nerve cells in the spinal cord, causing muscles to weaken, and the boy has to use a wheelchair.
Unfortunately for him and his family, Miles was positioned far off to the side from the rest of his second-grade classmates at Herbert Spencer Elementary School.
“Look at the angle that he was in,” his mother, Anne Belanger, told the Province, referring to the way Miles is lurching his body toward his fellow classmates in the shot. “He’s ostracized. He wants to be part of the gang so much.”
“Kids can be cruel but this comes from adults, which is even worse,” Belanger added. “Adults should know better.”
Don Ambridge told the Province, “For some reason it makes me feel even worse that he’s so happy in the picture. I think it’s because he’s still innocent … He’s still naive to how other people can treat him.”
To help preserve their son’s innocence, the parents have decided not to show the photo to Miles.
But Don Ambridge was in a mood to vent his anger, and he wrote a harsh note to the class teacher.
“It basically said, ‘I find this photo disgusting. Please throw it out. I don’t want it in my house.’ Painful, very painful. It still hurts to see it,” he explained.
While he labeled the picture dismissive and harmful, he did not believe it was discriminatory in nature.
“For me, discrimination is a willful exclusion of somebody. I don’t believe that’s a case here in any way, shape or form,” he said. “I think what it is, is just a circumstantial lack of awareness that resulted in a really emotionally tragic output.”
Don Ambridge sent the photo back to the school, which blamed the problem on Lifetouch, the company which snapped the images.
She indicated the firm didn’t immediately see any problem with the image, and it had to be coaxed into admitting there was too much distance separating Miles from the other kids.
“You want to think that they just made a mistake and they weren’t willing to correct it,” Fulton told the Province. “But in the meantime, the parents were really hurt by it.”
Lifetouch eventually admitted their photographer made a mistake, and it agreed to reshoot the class photo.
Dean Cochrane, manager for Lifetouch in Burnaby,B.C., said the firm teaches its photographers to compose photos differently when people with wheelchairs are included.
“On this composition, it wasn’t done right,” he told the Province. “This will be a learning experience for this photographer.”
The second photo, taken by another Lifetouch photographer, features Miles out of his wheelchair and supported by a caregiver on a bench beside his classmates.
Thousands of people in Canada and the U.S. are reacting to the original photo online.
Ester S. writes: “I’m a photographer myself and I know for a fact that there is a lot of things this photographer could have done to make this picture better and to make it all inclusive. The photographer needs to study his profession a lot more. He could have put the wheelchair in the middle and had the students in the first row sit on both sides of him. He could have scanned it and made changes as he desired and you wouldn’t even have to see the wheelchair.”
Another commenter noted: “The dude is cool, the 21st century Tiny Tim who knows what smiling and being happy is all about. Right on kid, keep smiling.”