School pictures get retaken all the time, usually to replace shots of kids who closed their eyes or to swap smiles for smirks, but rarely do they have an impact like the photo retaken of Miles Ambridge’s second-grade class.
The original photo went viral, evoking outrage over the way the 7-year-old boy and his wheelchair appear singled out from his classmates. The boy beams for the camera, having to crane his neck to the right to overcome the noticeable gap that separates him from the rest of his second grade class.
That same high-voltage smile is present in the new class photo his parents received this week. Only this time, Miles is more a part of the group.
“When we saw the new photo come out, the world’s been put back as it should be,” the boy’s father, Don Ambridge, told TODAY.com.
The original picture left both him and the boy’s mother shocked, angry and heartbroken.
Miles has spinal muscular atrophy, a genetic disease that attacks spinal nerve cells and weakens muscles. He was diagnosed at 13 months and uses a wheelchair because he can’t walk.
“It was so, so, so hurtful to see that original picture with my little boy pushed off to the side,” Ambridge said.
The photo went viral after first running on the cover of The Province, a Canadian paper, last Friday.
The boy’s mom, Anne Belanger, complained to Lifetouch Canada, the company that took the picture, and posted the image to its Facebook page, but never received a response.
Miles has yet to see the original photograph, which came home in his backpack several weeks ago.
“I opened it up and said, no, no. It was unacceptable,” said Ambridge, who is separated from his son’s mother and saw the photo first. “Immediately, I wrote a note back that I don’t want it in the house. Throw it out.”
He scanned the photo and sent it in an email to the school principal, who had the same reaction. He said she had to convince Lifetouch why the photo was not acceptable. The company returned last week for the retake.
“Lifetouch believes all students should be treated with respect and train our photographers accordingly. We made a mistake at Herbert Spencer Elementary and we are sorry, but it was never intentional,” the company said in a post Tuesday on its Facebook page, which received a range of vitriolic responses to the picture. “We worked directly with the family and school to retake the class photo and the new portrait was delivered yesterday.” Lifetouch didn't immediately respond to a call seeking comment.
Ambridge, who lives in New Westminister, British Columbia, doesn’t believe the slight was intentional. The photographer probably followed a template, muscling through numerous class photos in a day, he said.
Ambridge, who has been overwhelmed by the response he has received from the public, attended last week’s reshoot, in which Miles sits in the front row bench with his classmates.
It was similar to last year’s class photo, said Ambridge, who understands why some may question the decision to take Miles out of his wheelchair for the picture.
“But that’s his decision to make, not others'. When we get home from school, the first thing he wants to do is go hang out on the couch and maybe play some Wii, maybe read a book. He wants to take a break from the chair,” he said. “I think there’s an easy tendency to really politicize this from different angles.”
Ambridge said he hopes the story will, at the very least, raise awareness about people with disabilities and the unintentional discrimination they face daily.
“At the end of the day, if this helps people understand a little bit more about having that awareness, then it’s a win for everyone,” he said.