It was initially Holly's grandmother who suggested that the child's mother, Fiona, take the little girl to a casting call for Boden—one of Holly's favorite clothing brands. "Not many children with disabilities have the opportunities that other children have," Fiona, told ITV News. "I wanted to show that you don't have to be perfect to be in a magazine or online or in photographs, so that was my desire to push forward and get it done for Holly." It took two years to nab an audition, but this spring, Holly was invited to a casting session and chosen to participate in the latest online catalog. She and her mother traveled from their home in Cambridgeshire to London, where she spent a day trying on clothing and clowning around with the other kids being photographed. Zena Botha, the studio shoot and model manager, told the Daily Mail she was "delighted that Holly made the cut." She added that "Holly was charming and we're very pleased with the shoot."
Holly attends a local elementary school along with her 10-year-old brother, Oliver. She needs a wheelchair to get around, and, while she understands everything said to her, she's just started to be able to speak with an eye-controlled computer — similar to the one used by physicist Stephen Hawking. In a Q&A posted on Boden's blog, the giddy young model said the funniest person she knows is "Mummy," and that if she ruled the world she would play all the time, admitting that the silliest thing she's ever done is take a bath with her clothes on.
As it turns out, Holly isn't the first child with a disability to model for a large company. In 2012, the British brand Marks and Spencer launched the career of 4-year-old Seb White, a boy with Down syndrome, after he appeared in its Christmas ad campaign, and Holly's dad, Paul, said he was hopeful her Boden stint might lead to other opportunities. In the United States, a small handful of television programs such as "Glee" are notable for starring young characters with disabilities, and a 2012 Target catalog featured a boy with Down's Syndrome. But generally speaking, people with disabilities are nearly invisible in mainstream media. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 12 percent of Americans are living with disabilities, while the organization Inclusion in the Arts and Media of People With Disabilities reports that less than 1 percent of the regular characters on television are portrayed as having disabilities.
Mark Perriello, the president and CEO of the American Association of People With Disabilities, tells Yahoo Shine that he's pleased that some retailers are finally "starting to take notice of the 1 billion people with disabilities worldwide." He adds that "many people with disabilities face lowered expectations and stigma, and the positive impact of this kind of advertising can't be overstated." While Holly is just one cute and spunky little girl, Boden's choice to feature her, and to do so in a way that Perriello praises as "tasteful and without pity," may help chip away at the prejudice that disabled kids still face every day. "I hope it will help the image of disabled children," said Holly's mother. "And also open people's eyes to the fact there are lots of children out there who aren't perfect."
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