11-year-old Joseph Hale’s beaming smile can be seen front and centre of UK clothing chain River Island‘s new advertising campaign.
Joseph, from North East Lincolnshire in the UK, is one of eight child models in the ‘RI Kids Squad’. The models are diverse in age and colour, and in a major win for inclusivity, the group also includes a child with Down syndrome – dance-lover, Joseph.
Joseph’s parents, Andrew and Karen Hale, hope the prominent campaign – that’s now made international news, will help change people’s perceptions of the genetic condition.
Karen Hale told the Grimbsy Telegraph: “Disability should not define them. Joseph is a person. His Down’s is a small part of him. There is a lot more to see than the face value. They have a physical disability yes, but people have preconceived ideas – you need to see the person beneath. Hopefully this will be seen by other parents and children who realise his disability does not define him.”
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Joseph, who also has dyspraxia and global development delay, attends Cambridge Park Academy in Grimsby, and is loving his new star status amongst his classmates.
“It was nice to show the video to friends at school. People can take selfies with me now,” Joseph said.
“River Island made it comfortable for me and I really enjoyed it. I was trying to get everyone to dance to the music.”
River Island customer director Josie Cartridge explained that representation is important to the brand.
“The idea of the squad was to create a diverse group of children to portray ‘squad goals’. Joseph is great fun with an infectious laugh and star presence. We hope by being more inclusive this will help achieve wider acceptance for people with disabilities.”
The campaign has certainly attracted enough attention to achieve that. It comes a year after Kmart featured a Downs model in an Australian ad, which was seen as a significant step forward for the acceptance of disability into mainstream culture. And that's important because, as Joseph Hale's mother said, "Advertising can have a massive impact and people need to see that these individuals still have emotions, thoughts, feelings, dreams, aspirations the same as anyone else... and they need to be seen as equals at all times."