In the news: Petition for a Disney character with special needs

A recent online petition is calling for Disney to feature a character with special needs, and it's making waves.

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Anchel wants Syona to have real-life role models. Photo: Anchel Krishna

I recently read a Jezebel article about two parents who started an online petition encouraging Disney to feature characters with Down syndrome in their films.

I’ve written before about how important it is for children of all abilities to be featured in the media, why the majority of Syona’s fall wardrobe was purchased from GapKids, and why I pushed myself outside my comfort zone and appeared on national TV to talk about kids and Botox treatments.

Syona doesn’t watch much TV, and she’s never seen a Disney film. It’s not because I don’t believe in letting kids watch TV or that I spend all our spare time doing Pinterest-worthy crafts. It’s because she has cortical visal impairment (CVI), which is a visual processing disorder that makes interpreting complex images a challenge. Truth be told, I would love for her to be able to watch some TV… but this is all besides the point.

Even though Syona doesn’t watch Disney films yet, I do want her to see diversity in the characters. Even more importantly, I want other kids who watch Disney films to see a wide representation of the people who make up our world. Children need to understand that beneath whatever makes someone else “different” is an interesting person with a wide range of things that they might share in common.

I think my only issue with this petition is the notion that Disney creates some sort of role model. I’m aware of the princess culture. I’m not opposed to Disney, their products or visiting their theme park. However, I’m not 100 percent comfortable with my daughter having a Disney character as a role model. Truth be told, I’ve made some awesome friends with disabilities, and I would much rather one of them be Syona’s real-life role model—or someone else in her life who simply lives the values we try to instill in her on a daily basis.

Yes, I think it’s important to feature diversity in popular culture. I’m an even bigger fan of letting diversity speak for itself versus making it the sole focus of a story. However, I think our role models should be people that are actually linked to our lives, whether personally or a stranger whose actions we admire from afar—not some animated character in a kids film.

That being said, I still hope Disney hears these parents—and the more than 60,000 people who have signed the petition—because it will lead to more diversity being represented in popular culture. And if they ever do make a film that featured a character with a disability, I’ll be sure to buy a ticket.

Follow along as Anchel Krishna shares her experiences as mother to Syona, an extraordinary toddler with cerebral palsy. Read all of Anchel’s Special-needs parenting posts and follow her on Twitter @AnchelK.

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