Katie Driscoll from Palos Park, Illinois has been on a quest to change the face of beauty.
It all started with the birth of her daughter. Already a mother of five boys, Katie was overjoyed to have her first girl. When she found out that her daughter had Down syndrome, her happiness didn’t falter. Katie said:
“I didn’t want people to feel sorry for her or for us because I was proud of who she was.”
After Katie’s daughter Grace was born, the proud mother started to take photographs of her. The photo collection eventually turned into blogging Grace’s pictures to a bigger audience, which led to a full-fledged campaign called Changing the Face of Beauty, a campaign that urges companies to include photographs of those with disabilities in their ads.
“I believe imagery is the strongest form of communication we have. It’s such a visual world that when we see something, we believe it. That’s why advertising is so powerful.”
Changing the Face of Beauty began in the autumn of 2012, when Katie’s friend Steve English asked if he could feature Grace in a catalog for his Chicago-based flower shop’s fair-trade clothing line.
After that, Katie became heavily interested in photography, teaching herself the skills she needed. In her free time, Katie sends messages to companies, asking if they would consider including those with disabilities in their promotions. Although those emails mostly went ignored in the past, she gets responses more often now. Often, retailers will admit that they hadn’t even thought about the lack of representation for people with disabilities before.
One of the big successes Katie has experienced was a reply from actress and author Tori Spelling regarding her Little Maven children’s clothing line. Katie and Tori’s conversation led to Grace being featured in Tori’s holiday lookbook, and ongoing work with Little Maven.
Katie believes that the inclusion of people with disabilities is becoming more common – for example, the first model to grace the runway in a wheelchair during New York Fashion Week made headlines earlier this year. Katie says:
“I think people are hearing and seeing the response from our world and realizing that it does make a difference to a large portion of population.” [source]
One of Katie’s latest projects is a partnership with Seam, a Boston-based clothing collection. Cindy Estes, founder of Seam, was contacted by Katie about the photographs for her 2014 line, which led to Grace taking part in the photoshoot. Cindy said:
“The heart of what she is doing is so spot on. It’s just so right and such a heartfelt message that I’m excited to be a part of it and continue to do so. When you see the joy in Grace’s face in these photos, it’s infectious.”
With Katie’s campaign, she hopes to normalize disabilities by increasing inclusion and representation. According to a recent study, 44 percent of adults ages 21-64 with an intellectual disability are in the labor force, in comparison to the 83 percent of those without disabilities in the workforce. Katie hopes that changing the perception of disabilities will help to lessen this gap.
In 14 years, Grace will be entering the workforce. Katie hopes that her efforts have made an impact, proving to the world that people with disabilities are capable, valuable and beautiful individuals. Katie explains:
“The perception is that they can’t do it and that’s decided before they even open their mouths. But every time a person is exposed to an individual with a disability, it breaks down those barriers and that perception.
Hopefully the next 14 years will give people some more exposure to individuals with disabilities and show them that they are capable. Give them a chance to open their mouths and prove it at least.”
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