The Grade 2 class is shown lined up in three rows with seven-year-old Miles conspicuously missing among his mates. He is positioned at the far right on his wheelchair awkwardly alone. In spite of the gap separating him from his peers, he beams, leans to the side on his wheelchair, a gesture that reflects an instinctive desire to be seen as close to his mates in the photo.
Miles' mother Anne Belanger, said she was so saddened and angered by the photo that she could hardly look at it. According to The Province
, the British Columbia mother said tearfully: "Look at the angle that he was in. He's ostracized. He wants to be part of the gang so much."
The Toronto Star
reports Belanger said: "I couldn't comprehend how the photographer could look through the lens and think that this was good composition... this just boggled the mind."
Miles suffers spinal muscular atrophy
, a disease caused by a genetic defect that manifests as muscle wasting and impairment in mobility. The disease targets the nerve cells in the spinal cord and causes muscles in the body, especially in the limbs, to weaken.
Fortunately, the disease does not affect sufferers' mental and cognitive capacities.
Miles was diagnosed at 13 months.
His parents are saddened at the picture of discrimination that the class photo presents. For a child who faces daunting challenges due to his disability being sidelined because of the circumstances of his health places an extra burden on his struggle to fit in.
According to the Toronto Star
, Belanger said: "Being picked on and being set aside is horrendous and this was what was happening."
Miles' father Don, said he felt frustrated to see his son excluded from his peers. He described the photo as humiliating. He said: "For some reason, it makes me feel even worse that he's so happy in the picture. I think it's because he's still innocent... He's still naive to how other people can treat him."
According to UPI
, Don said: "It broke my heart. He’s leaning in, he wants to be included."
He said he wrote a letter to the class teacher which "basically said, 'I find this photo disgusting. Please throw it out. I don’t want it in my house.' Painful, very painful. It still hurts to see it."
Miles' parents said he has not seen the picture. His mother fears that if he sees it he would be hurt because even at his tender age he is "profoundly aware that he's different than his peers."
In spite of the desire of Miles' parents to keep him from seeing the photo, they felt the need to bring attention to the discrimination that disabled persons suffer regularly.
She told the Toronto Star
: "This was not a malicious act, I don’t think it was done on purpose. I just don’t think there was any rational thinking behind it."
Miles' father said: "I think what it is, is just a circumstantial lack of awareness that resulted in a really emotionally tragic output."
Belanger posted the photo to the Facebook page of the photography company. The company, Lifetouch Canada
, promptly removed it, citing privacy laws. The parents then reposted the photo with the faces of the children blacked out. Miles' father also sent the photo to his son's school, Herbert Spencer Elementary.
The school principal Tracy Fulton said she contacted the photography company when she saw the photo. The firm allegedly first attempted to defend itself saying there was nothing wrong with the photo but later admitted that separating Miles from his mates was a mistake. The company then offered to retake the photo.
According to The Province
, Dean Cochrane, manager of the company, said the composition of the photo was "not done right. This will be a learning experience for this photographer."
Miles' mother, however, blamed both the company and the school, saying "Kids can be cruel but this comes from adults, which is even worse. Adults should know better."
But school principal Fulton said only the photographer was to blame because the class teacher was standing to the far left and did not see that the Miles was sitting apart from the group.