Munster business promotes including special needs kids in advertising

MUNSTER, Indiana (WLS) -- After a quick touch up from the make up artist, 10-year-old Blake Lynch modeled for the camera. Five-year-old Caleigh Heenan also visited Land O' Frost's offices to pose for her own set of professional head-shots. But the kids smiling for the cameras don't look like children you would see in many advertisements. These are kids with special needs, teaming up with Land O' Frost to let other businesses know those with disabilities are also consumers.

"So are her parents and her family members...they purchase all the same products that all the typically developed kids purchase," pointed out Caleigh's mom Lisa Heenan.

Katie Driscoll, whose own daughter has Down syndrome, founded Changing the Face of Beauty to spread that message.

"We are a loyal consumer group and that it is important that we feel represented and seen and spoken to," she said, adding that she hopes equality in advertising will open other doors, "so that we can start talking about improving the employment rate of people with disabilities."

Land O'Frost President and CEO David Van Eekeren is on the front lines of this mission. His 9-year-old son Tommy, who has Down syndrome, was recently featured in one of the company's TV commercials.

"All of our kids are beautiful (in their) own right," Van Eekeren said.

He said the response from consumers has been positive; on the "social media front our brand awareness is bigger than it's ever been," he explained.

Today, Van Eekeren's team rolled out the red carpet to help more rising stars build their portfolios as child actors.

Gina Hontzas, who traveled from Birmingham, Alabama with her eight-year-old daughter Ana, called this "a special opportunity to be included just like everyone else."

Hontzas's sister-in-law, Beth Hontzas, also came with nine-year-old daughter Athena. They wanted to connect with families who face similar issues. They're also hoping their daughters might get a gig out of it--Beth Hontzas even has a pitch ready for the casting directors: "Two cousins starring side by side."

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly a fifth of the U.S. population had a disability in 2010. So including this group in advertising is more than doing good, it's good business.
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