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Parents magazine cover features girl with spina bifida

The February issue of Parents magazine arrived the other day, and I couldn’t help but smile when I saw the cover. Right there, front and center, is 3-year-old Emily Keicher, who has spina bifida.

Emily is beyond cute and has an infectious smile. She has a walker and leg braces, too. I love seeing a child with a disability on the cover of a major national magazine. Even better, she’s not out there because there’s a story in the magazine about kids with special needs. She’s there just because. And that makes my heart soar.

“Parents is a national magazine with a very large audience and we want them to see . . . their experiences reflected back in our pages,” said Dana Points, editor of Parents. “It’s part of being responsible to the readers. I won’t say that we have it completely figured out, nor am I precisely calculating the composition of the pages every month. But we really do try to make an effort to represent a wide range of issues in the magazine.”

Points said that since redesigning the magazine a year ago, editors have tried to feature more children with disabilities in inside features, and take a more “ relaxed and authentic” view of parenting with the covers. After taking pictures of Emily for an inside story about homemade valentines, the photo director approached Points with the idea of featuring Emily on a cover.

“She’s magical,” Points said. “I met her at the shoot. Some kids just have a certain spark and she has that spark.”

February 2013 cover, featuring Emily Keicher (Courtesy of Parents magazine/Courtesy of Parents magazine)

Spina bifida , a birth defect that affects the spine, occurs in about 7 out of every 10,000 children born in the United States, according to the Spina Bifida Association.

Emily’s mom, Elizabeth, told Parents magazine editors that she wants people to see Emily as a child first, rather than a person with a disability. She also prefers that, instead of staring, people just ask why Emily uses a walker. Here is video of her interview with the magazine.

“At the end of the day you’re going to give birth to a beautiful baby. you’re going to love that baby unconditionally,” Elizabeth says in the video interview. “And everything that you’ll be facing in terms of medical needs or therapeutic or developmental needs will become your new normal. You’ll just get to figure it out like you always do as a first-time parent.

“These kids are just like any other kid. they may have some things that make them individuals, but the beauty of it is that’s what we all have. I might wear glasses, and she might use a walker, but everybody has their own individuality.”

I couldn’t have said it better.

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Mari-Jane Williams edits community news for Local Living.
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