Lifetouch Photographer Gets Flak Over Disabled Boy's School Photo

Elementary school class photos are supposed to create happy memories that can last a lifetime, especially for parents. But the work of one photographer for Lifetouch Canada left the parents of 7-year-old Miles Ambridge heartbroken and sparked a furor on the Internet, according to reports.

As seen in the video above, the photographer, who hasn't been identified in reports, snapped Ambridge's second grade class at Herbert Spencer Elementary in New Westminster, B.C., but conspicuously left the boy, who uses a wheelchair, to the side. Ambridge -- who was diagnosed at 13 months with spinal muscular atrophy and is paralyzed -- is shown smiling and leaning toward his classmates, perhaps in an effort to be better seen as part of the group, which New York's Daily News estimates was three feet away.

Ambridge's mother, Anne Belanger, said that she was devastated when she saw the photo. "Kids can be cruel, but this comes from adults, [who] should know better," she told The Province, a newspaper in British Columbia that broke the story and published the class photo on its front page. "I'm not on a warpath," Belanger said. "I just want to bring awareness that this was not acceptable."

More: 15 Things You Need to Know About Disability Discrimination

While school officials said that they hadn't seen the photo before it was sent home (and the teacher said that she didn't notice the gap during the photo shoot), the parents asked the school to get rid of the photo and posted it on Lifetouch's Facebook page. The photo went viral and drew outrage from some of those offended by how the boy was depicted. "I wanted to cry," @PSprehe tweeted. Some have gone further, such as Toni Goethe, who in a tweet said that the separation seen in the photo qualifies as "discrimination."

According to Spencer Elementary's principal, Tracy Fulton, Lifetouch at first saw no problem. But after some "coaxing" from the school, as The Province report put it, LifeTouch manager Dean Cochrane admitted that the photographer erred and that its photographer should have made adjustments for Ambridge. "This will be a learning experience for this photographer," Cochrane said.

No word yet on whether the photographer's job has been placed in jeopardy, but the photo was re-shot last week, with the boy out of his wheelchair and placed beside his classmates in the bleachers. And on Tuesday, the new photo was making the rounds on the Internet after it was printed by The Province. After being shown the photo, Miles was thrilled. "Oh, mommy! This is so nice," he told her.

For their part, the parents say they don't believe the incident was willful discrimination. But for them, the carelessness didn't lessen the hurt.

"He's just trying to be part of the picture and he's having a great time doing it," his father told CBC News. "I think that's part of the pain for me. ... [I]t's just so innocent where you start thinking, 'How dare you?' "

This story was updated on Wednesday at 1:15 PM EDT with information about the second photo.

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Lifetouch takes crappy photos.

June 11 2014 at 8:58 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Sound of the Silent

I'm going to go out on a limb here: this "outrage" is an absurdity.
As the mother of a child with profound physical and mental disabilities, I am painfully aware of the challenges that entails.
But many children with disabilities are at risk of abuse and murder; and so many more are denied access to adequate therapies, education, specialized equipment and aides. Shouldn't we choose our battles and focus our energy on the real issues?
Besides: was the photographer at fault for failing to transfer Miles from his wheelchair to the bench and to arrange for a caregiver to support him there? (That was the "solution" implemented when the photo was retaken. See
Moreover, Miles' wheelchair is clearly positioned as close to the bench as it could get.
I just don't get this scapegoating of the photographer.
Visitors and commenters are most welcome at the blog where I write about raising an 18 year old daughter with profound disabilities:

June 26 2013 at 6:05 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This is a good example of people just not thinking about inclusion. Hopefully this story will help.
Also note that a lot of these school picture companies don't have 'real' photographers. These people are just trained to take a lot of photos very fast. They don't have time to make adjustments. I have 3 kids in wheelchairs which means, rearranging the camera, refocusing, etc. I've gotten some very bad photos from Lifetouch specifically.

June 21 2013 at 10:48 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

And if the photographer would have pulled the kid out of the wheel chair and the kid was injured as a result this parent would be suing in flash. It seems to me that the school should have been the ones to put the kid in the bleachers, or this "irate" parent could have shown up and bothered to move her own kid herself. Being a photographer for a chain studio like this doesn't really come with medical assistant for the handicapped in the job description.

June 19 2013 at 11:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Ruckhard53's comment

Good one!!!! I'm with ya on this one Jethro. They should've stoned the parents to death because only sinners have handicapped children.

June 11 2014 at 9:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

So wait... The photographer admitted the mistake and they retook the photo ... so why are showing us? I can see if the photographer refused to do anything about it, but they admitted they were wrong and redid the photo. Thanks for wasting my time.

June 19 2013 at 5:36 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

I would just like to say that yes, this picture doesn't look right, but it wasn't done intentionally, nor was there anything the photographer could have done to change the outcome without a parent present or help from school officials.

I've worked for Lifetouch and in this setting, the camera is completely locked down, you can't change the settings. So the child couldn't be placed in front with his wheelchair, he would have been out of focus. They clearly moved the chair as closely as possible to the bleachers, but they couldn't move the children toward him, because the picture would have been off centered.. The camera is secured and can't be moved so it works specifically with the lighting. Legally the photographer can not touch the child to re-position him or remove him from the wheel chair, only a parent or representative from the school can. Lastly, photographers have 3-6 minutes to get everyone posed and smiling and moved on, the photographer was probably on auto pilot and didn't even notice and thought he/she was doing what was best at the time.

I'm glad they re-shot the portrait and that everyone is happy now. I'm sure there will be new rules put in place at both Lifetouch and individual schools on how to handle these situations in the future. I hope the photographer isn't discouraged and that everyone keeps in mind that this was just an matter of circumstances.

June 19 2013 at 3:34 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Monique's comment

Sorry but I also worked for Lifetouch after spending time working for Olan Mills. - the photographer most certainly could have repositioned the children - Unfortunately, it was my experience that most of the photographers for Lifetouch are only trained to shoot within the "norm" and are not taught how to shoot out of the box. The photographer could have asked for help from the school to re-position the child - and if necessary take the additional time to ensure a good photograph. I'm not blaming the photographer - I'm blaming the lack of training. I'm glad they reshot the photo as well - as to the photographer being discouraged - hopefully they took away some knowledge for the future - and it was a learning experience of how not to insult a handicapped child/person.

June 19 2013 at 3:59 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

yeah right, sounds to me like she (photographer) didnt want to ruin the class pic.. that child has just as much right to be in the class pic , as do the rest of the children... they should of thot to put him on the bleachers before the pic was taken, and wouldnt have been an issue... i know the works of lifetouch, they are dispicable at times.. and yes it does hurt parents when their child is omited. no excuse at all... get the lens wider for pics then.... better not happen again is all i can say.. this has to be a lesson in all photographors settings of anyone. child or adult in wheelchairs of any disabilites..

June 19 2013 at 3:19 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I just feel sorry for the little boy and the parents. People can really be insensitive.

June 19 2013 at 3:11 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

if anything, this shows the insensitivity of the parents who are obviously embarrassed by their son. The kid looks totally fine with the picture, and most likely accepts his situation and realizes what he can and cannot do. The parents are just upset that he couldnt look like a "normal" kid in the picture

June 19 2013 at 2:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Everything with Lifetouch is so automated that the photographers have no opportunity to think outside the box. The cameras are preset to a certain distance, the flash equipment is set up based on that, and so on. Still, I would have brought the boy to the front row, and brought the other students down to his level for the first row. It could be done, but with all the presets, it might not have been totally focused...still, I would have tried!

June 19 2013 at 2:59 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to bagsolutions's comment

You are absolutely right - and all presents can be undone - that's one of the things they need to teach their photographers. All Lifetouch has to do is reset their depth of field (F-stop) - to a smaller setting and it would work fine - and turn up their lighting - or sync the lighting to the f-stop.

June 19 2013 at 4:03 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

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