The most magical thing happened the other night when we happened to arrive a little early for a Disney movie.
As we sat there a Disneyland commercial played, and right in the middle of it were shots of my son Benny dressed up like Woody from Toy Story, dancing with a real live Jessie doll! What a beautiful moment!!
For a kid with a disability to see himself represented on the big screen like this is just so unbelievably awesome!
When Benny was first booked for the commercial we were very excited, but we were told not to post about it until after the commercial was released. I can't tell you how hard it's been sitting on my hands waiting to tell the world this exciting news!
For those of you who are wondering how a kid like Benny, who has Down syndrome and Autism and whose primary communication is through an AAC device, gets booked to act in a commercial for Disneyland, the story goes back to when Benny was a toddler. Several people in my Down syndrome community were talking about an amazing organization called Changing the Face of Beauty whose mission is to increase representation of the disability community throughout the world.
I know how important this mission is. When I first found out prenatally that my baby was going to have Down syndrome one of my main points of reference came from a commercial I had watched a long time before of happy people with Down syndrome playing ball at the park. I was only a teenager at the time but I remember being surprised that tears of joy started streaming down my face as I watched the commercial. All these years later that feeling was still with me, and despite a lot of pressure to terminate my pregnancy, that feeling that people with Down syndrome were happy and inspired joy had remained with me all of these years, and I stayed strong and decided to keep my baby.
And Benny has always loved being in front of the camera, and the camera loves him. I knew that my son was destined to be a part of this revolution, and so I took every opportunity that came our way. When he was about eighteen months old he had already had several local modeling gigs in Boulder, Colorado when he was chosen to model for the Cat and Jack brand for Target. That was an exciting gig, but because he didn't have an agent we didn't have any communication afterwards about what happened to the shots. To this day I have no idea if any of the pictures ever got used. It was then that I decided that I needed to look for an agent for Benny.
After another parent of a child with Down syndrome who had gotten booked in a commercial posted that they used an agent from KMR diversity, I reached out and signed Benny up to work with them.
The day he got the casting call to audition for Disneyland I was in the hospital with my father who was deathly ill from Legionnaires' Disease. I almost turned it down with everything that was going on, but the opportunity was just too great to pass up. When we had visited Disneyland the year prior I had been ecstatic with the accommodations they provided to make the visit comfortable for Benny. I remember wishing that everywhere on earth was as accommodating as Disneyland! For Benny to have the chance to represent children with disabilities enjoying the most magical place on earth was just too amazing to pass up.
When Benny was chosen to act in the commercial we could not believe our luck. Not only was he going to get to be in a Disneyland commercial, but the filming was actually taking place in the park itself!
Since the shoot was on a school day Benny had his very own teacher on set.
It also happened to be "Wear your school shirt" day at Rio Vista Elementary that day. We put his Rio Vista Elementary School shirt on over his costume and had him pose with the camera and crew so that he could participate from afar.
Even though he didn't get to stay at Disneyland to enjoy the park after the shoot, Benny had a wonderful time!
Everyone he worked with was so nice, and he loved being the center of attention.
It has been a fun journey for all of us so far. When we found out we were going to have a child with Down syndrome, we never would have imagined that at 9 years old he would already have had a professional career modeling and acting!
If you have a child with a disability who loves to be on camera I highly recommend getting them into acting and modeling. We had a wonderful experience working with KMR diversity and Benny is currently represented by the amazing Renee Perkins Garcia at the Inclusion Division at Paloma Model and Talent. Her daughter Kennedy is one of the celebrities with Down syndrome who inspired us to get into the business.
We still haven't been able to find the commercial online, so if you happen to see this commercial playing somewhere please let us know so we can get an idea of where it's playing.
Feel free to reach out to me if you want to book Benny for a shoot, or you want to learn more about diversity in entertainment. Join the diversity revolution!
Since becoming a mom to a little boy with Trisomy 21 I have written a lot about Down syndrome and disabilities. I am a storyteller, wife and mom to a teen and a toddler. Life is busy!