The Poster Child Philosophy

“A commitment made to a child should be a commitment for life” – Terry Wiens (on the subject of Poster Children)

How many times does a picture of some cute animal or cute child show up on your Facebook wall?  That’s because cuteness sells.  This is also a well established premise in marketing and nothing is cuter than a child.  Non-profits, foundations and professional fund raisers understand this which is why we see a plethora of “cute kids” for any major fund raisers.

You can’t get through an hour of TV these days without seeing some cute kid in some ad for Variety Village, Ronald MacDonald’s House, St. Judes Hospitals, the BC Children’s Hospital or some other equally worth whiled cause.  Professional fund raising has become the norm while governments erode the advances that had been made 30 years ago.  This is the reality of how we have become a “user pay” system.

It has become the responsibility of the community to raise funds for a wide variety of equipment and services that the government use to provide.  It is now telethon’s hiding behind cute kids to fund what use to be community services.  Meanwhile foundations and professional fund raisers use the cute poster child concept to purchase “specialized equipment” that many institutions no longer have an operational budget to effectively use.  At the same time parents are left having to use their child to advocate for services they didn’t realize were not as available as they had been lead to believe.

1955 March of Dimes Timmy Winnipeg
Winnipeg 1955 March of Dimes Timmy

I was one of the first generation of poster children.  This was a time when we didn’t have the level of regulations and by-laws that exist today.  The bulk of us were institutionalized in hospitals dedicated to the well being of polio kids.  The truth was it was easier to warehouse us in a centralized facility then create an inclusive community.  This was pre-socialized healthcare days when there were no policies or regulations governing how the disabled lived or attended school.  However we were kept pretty busy while providing great photo ops for dignitaries and causes of the day.

By the time I was 16 I had met the Queen, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Cisco Kid, Gene Audrey and the list goes on.  Every headliner at the Calgary Stampede made a visit to the Children’s Hospital.  Nothing said cute like a photo op with the kids at the Children’s Hospital.

The optics of that “cute child” pulls at the heart enough to get people to loosen their purse strings and donate to a good cause.  The optics of a cute child go a long way in fund raising.  I know, as Winnipeg’s 1955 March of Dimes Timmy my picture helped raised a whopping $9000 which was a considerable amount of money in those days.  However that cuteness wanes when you become an adult and move into the real world.  When that happens you either become an advocate or a resident in a long-term care facility.  At 18 I was definitely not going into a long-term care facility so I became an activist for disability rights and community inclusion.

I have spend my life as activist for one cause or another.  I have raised a family, had numerous careers and had to fight every step of the way.  Today I am reminded almost daily as I watch gains I had fought for being eroded.  In todays society it has become the parent who must advocate for many of their child’s needs.

Picture of young NickIt takes a very dedicated and determined parent to stand up for their child and raise awareness.  Parents like David Willows who capitalized on the cuteness of his little fellow, Nick Willows.  He is tackling an issue that should have been resolved years ago but continues to be a hidden embarrassment while also being a major barrier to independence.

It is difficult to involve your child in their community if the proper supports are not there.  Something as basic as proper “designated wheelchair parking” shouldn’t be a battle we are still fighting but we are.  David has tapped into the cuteness of his son to get this message across to the powers that be.  Being a parent to a child with special needs can be challenging enough without having to refight battles many thought had already been dealt with.

Photo of a disabled parking spots being used as construction site
There were 27 other spots but they used this one for tools

What astounds me is how 7 of 9 (not a Star Trek reference) municipalities can see 3.9 meters so differently.  The City of Nanaimo tells me the dimensions are actually 3.7 meters but I’m not going to quibble over .2 of a metre.

What I do quibble about is when public designated disabled parking are used as a work space for contractors or the place where the snowplow can stack up the snow from the mall parking lot.  That’s not cute…

Unfortunately we all grow out of that “cute” phase and become adults with extradorinaiy living costs.  Paying 60% of your retirement income into rent because basement suites don’t work doesn’t make you cute.  Having the designated disabled parking stall for the apartment building as the one not under cover (like the other 25) is also not cute.  No such thing as getting into your vehicle quickly during a rainstorm…

I hope by the time Nick gets to an age where he realizes how hard his parents had to fight for him these issues are far behind us.  The joke about “getting the best parking spots” was never really a joke…



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