Some of the hottest models at Manhattan's McDonald/Richards Model Management are stunning, slender--and in wheelchairs. Major retailers are routinely using disabled models in ads and catalogs of late. An example: The Stern's department-store chain recently featured paraplegic model Kitty Lunn in an ad layout for sportswear. Aside from her wheelchair, she blended in with the able-bodied models on the page.
McDonald/Richards, the leader in this field, began with two disabled models two years ago; now, it has a special division with 50. Major clients include Macy's, Hecht's, Dayton-Hudson, Target, and Kmart. Vesta Talent, a smaller casting and modeling agency, has a dozen. Superagencies such as Ford and Elite each employ a few. Mostly, the models are in wheelchairs or leg braces; other disabilities, such as blindness, are tougher to portray.
The point is to show the disabled as part of everyday life. But including them in ads isn't just altruism. The 43 million Americans with disabilities have a total income of some $700 billion, representing an untapped market. When Target used a wheelchair-bound child to model clothes in Sunday circulars this spring, it got 100 letters of praise from the disabled and their families.