Katie Driscoll, an Illinois mom of six, is using her talent as a photographer to try to erase the fear and discomfort she believes society has toward people with disabilities.
Driscoll, the mother of five sons, finally got the little girl she longed for when her daughter Gracie was born four years ago. Gracie was born with Down syndrome. "I was absolutely proud that I had a daughter, regardless of her abilities and wanted to celebrate that fact," says Driscoll.
She began photographing her daughter and asking businesses if they would consider using a child with a disability in ads. She posted the photos on her blog, and businesses often posted them too. One of those business owners is Steve English of The Blossom Boys gift and flower shop in Chicago; he also happens to be the father of a disabled child, son Jason — now 34, who had congenital heart disease and suffered a stroke at age 6 that left him severely learning disabled.
With English's support and encouragement, the two partnered to launch Changing the Face of Beauty in 2012, an online gallery of kids and young adults with disabilities who are available to appear in advertisements. Driscoll e-mails companies to urge them to take a look. She believes that we are all influenced by imagery, and exposing a larger audience to individuals who might be considered different will increase the public's comfort level and open up new opportunities for those with a disability.
The pair also use social media networking to ask parents to submit professional photographs of their kids, and so far have had an overwhelming response. About 30 children with disabilities have been featured in ads, mostly for clothing companies in digital ads that Driscoll shoots in her garage-turned-photo-studio. The pair insists that they're "not a modeling agency." Driscoll says that they simply want to be a place where modeling agencies can go and see the faces, and where companies can see and understand that it doesn't take much to be more inclusive for the disabled population.
Driscoll did not work as a photographer prior to Gracie's birth, and she credits her daughter for not only changing her outlook on children with disabilities, but also with launching her new career.