A two-year-old who has a beautiful smile may have potential as a child model. But if the child also has Down Syndrome, her chances of being hired and used in campaigns drop dramatically. Many manistream modelling agencies typically do not represent disabled children. Other, niche agencies, do find work for out-of-the-ordinary child models.
Many of the top agencies in entertainment hubs New York and Los Angeles do not represent children with disabilities, nor does such notable agencies as Wilhelmina. Furthermore, one of the pioneering agencies for disabled children, Beautiful Kids Incorporated, closed its doors. Ford Models, which has offices in New York, Los Angeles, Paris and Toronto, does not actively represent children with disabilities but does accept photos.
World of Kids, based in Florida, and Kathy Donahue's Stars represent disabled children.
As with any modelling agency, modelling agencies for disabled children get work for disabled children between infancy and 16 years old. Agencies search for work in the print and commercial medium, representing product (e.g. quadriplegic child modelling in a new wheelchair for quadriplegics) or lifestyle (e.g. photos of disabled children competing in the Special Olympics). Little to no work is available in fashion and glamour.
Mary Hogarth, a creative director for Toys "R" Us, reports that the company has hired special-needs children as models since 1992 for their print and television ads. The company also produces a guide to help parents of special-needs children in their selection of products. Houghton-Mifflin, one of the nation's leading textbook publishers, employs disabled children to model for their textbooks and advertisements. Agencies may also find employment for children through companies such as Target, Sears and Pearsons.
Ginnie Cummo, founder of Beautiful Kids Incorporated, believes that disabled children are viewed as imperfect and that companies do not want the perception that their product is tainted. Consequently, Cummo adds, many modelling agencies that focus on special-needs children cannot find enough work for their clients to develop a marketing budget. Ann Marie Sheridan, of Kathy Donahue's Stars, admits that work is available but not frequent. "The challenge is that parents just don't think about it," she states. "The labour and time involved in taking children for pictures, screen tests, and meetings can be too exhaustive."
Mainstream television shows such as America's Top Model and Britain's Missing Top Model--that often have shows focusing on disabled children models--will have a minimal effect on changing the prerequisite "image of perfection" for modelling agencies. More agencies may accept photos and even set up meetings, but the prospects for representing disabled children and finding work for them remains slim. Ann Marie Sheridan says, "the work comes from advertisers, not the agencies; and more parents have to have the time and energy to consider the work that's out there for these children."