Katie Driscoll is a mother of six on a mission. A big mission that started around a kitchen table in a small town—to help us see the beauty in difference.
It all began in 2009 with the birth of Grace, her sixth child and the first and only girl in the family. Grace was born with Down Syndrome, and Katie acknowledges that initially there was a great deal of fear, pain and sadness surrounding the unknowns of raising a child with a disability. But Grace quickly opened their hearts and minds in unforeseen ways, ultimately inspiring her mother to become a devoted advocate for acceptance, compassion and understanding around the world.
In 2012, with the help of Steve English, owner of a local flower shop and father to an adopted son with special needs, Katie launched a campaign called “Changing the Face of Beauty, ” to transform public perception of people with disabilities by including them in advertising and media.
The focus of Changing the Face of Beauty grew out of Katie’s experience as a professional photographer and a belief that acceptance comes from exposure to all types of people. She understands the power and influence of the images we see in advertising and the glaring lack of diversity that currently exists.
Katie is honest about the fact that patience is a challenge for her, but it may also be a virtue. The campaign began with a personal appeal to a few individual sellers on Etsy to integrate individuals with special needs in their marketing materials. Now, thanks to a little impatience and a whole lot of determination and grit, Changing the Face of Beauty has more than 100 companies, big and small, committed to inclusion.
In three short years, Katie has taken the world by storm. In addition to the growing number of business partners, she has also attracted the support of major celebrities, been featured across numerous major media outlets, produced photo shoots educating retailers on what products look like on models with and without disabilities, helped put the first woman with Down syndrome on the runway at New York Fashion Week and created a viral #imgoingbacktoschooltoo campaign.
Despite all of this success, as she flipped through the pages of back to school catalogs this fall, she was reminded there is still a long road ahead. People with disabilities spend upwards of $245 billion dollars a year, but are still somehow conspicuously absent in the advertising of products they consume.
And, as Katie observes her own daughter’s struggle for acceptance among peers, she remains concerned that kids like Grace “work 365 days a year to keep up with their peers yet they are still not valuable enough to be seen in advertising that is directly marketed to their peer groups.”
Nonetheless, there are plenty of sunshiny days along the way. The Miami Lincoln Road GAP just featured 15 “power girls” in their fall line fashion show, all of whom were recruited by Changing the Face of Beauty. The show included some of Ellen DeGeneres’s ED line. The hope is to have more opportunities to work with GAP and to use this project as fuel for a “Who’s Next” campaign. Katie also has plans to launch a school program talking about the power of imagery and how it feels to not be seen, and to work with photographers to generate more and better stock imagery for companies wanting to include people with disabilities in their advertising and marketing.
As the excitement and momentum continue to build, Katie is acutely aware of the sacrifices she and her family make every day to do this work. Those sacrifices drive her to push even harder and to appreciate the many people who amplify, support and otherwise invest in this mission. “Failure,” she says, “is not an option.”
This piece was originally published in our print magazine, POSITIVELY.