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Toddler's reaction to Target ad of boy in wheelchair goes viral: 'He couldn't stop looking'

Chelsea Curtis, The Republic | azcentral.com
Demi P. Garza-Pena shared this photo of her son, Oliver, staring in awe at a Target ad in Peoria because he recognized a boy just like him, she said.

PHOENIX – A shopping trip to Target in Peoria, Arizona, a couple of weeks ago was fairly routine for Oliver Garza-Pena, who is nearly 2 years old, and his mom. 

But when the pair entered the boy's clothing department, something unexpected happened. 

Oliver whipped his wheelchair around to stare in awe at an ad above a clothing rack. In it was a boy like him: smiling while sitting in a wheelchair.

"He couldn't stop looking at it," Oliver's mom, Demi Garza-Pena, told The Arizona Republic, part of the USA TODAY Network, via Facebook. 

"I could immediately see that he knew he had just seen a boy like himself. Something he has never seen before," she said of the ad. 

Garza-Pena snapped a photo of the moment and shared it on Facebook. She has a page for Oliver called "Ollie's World."

The photo was shared more than 33,000 times by Sunday afternoon.

"It made me realize that he needs to see more of this," Garza-Pena said.

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Mom hopes inclusiveness expands

During her 18-week ultrasound while pregnant with Oliver, Garza-Pena learned he would be born with Caudal Regression Syndrome, a rare condition that affects the development of the lower spine and organs. 

She started the Facebook page for Oliver to bring awareness to his condition.

Garza-Pena said the attention the photo of Oliver received made her realize she could be part of making his world more inclusive. 

"Seeing the post being talked about all over the world has given me hope," she said. "I hope the conversation continues."

Advertising and marketing efforts are increasingly diverse. The 2018 Gerber baby, Lucas Warren, has Down Syndrome. Target swimsuit model Kiara Washington has a prosthetic leg. Jillian Mercado, who uses a wheelchair, poses for Nordstrom.

Connecting with the boy in the ad

Garza-Pena's photo made its way through social media to Massachusetts, where Colton Robinson, 10, the boy featured in the Target ad, lives with his family.

His mom, Ashley, told the Republic they were pleasantly surprised to learn of Oliver's reaction to the ad. 

"You could tell he was really connecting with it, which really means a lot to us that my son can, you know, be like a role model to him," she said. "Colton thought it was adorable to have a little kid looking up to him ... he's never really had that before."

Garza-Pena and Ashley Robinson connected on Facebook.

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Colton has spina bifida and is paralyzed from the knees down, Robinson said. In addition to modeling for Target, he's modeled for Toys R Us and landed a small role in a television show, according to Robinson. 

"When my son was 2 years old and asking, 'When am I going to walk?' or, you know, those really hard questions, he didn't really have anyone to look up to in a store," she said. 

Robinson said people want to see themselves reflected. "We want to see people with different abilities, people with different sizes, just a wide range of different people. I think more companies need to be aware of that, and honestly, it's the future, and people are really starting to catch on."

Courtney Kanipes, executive team leader of human resources at the Target store in Peoria, said it's not uncommon for the company to feature ads that show there's more than one type of person in the world. 

"The cool thing about Target is we stand for an equal employment opportunity and getting to show that we truly care and we're making a difference, even if it's as slight as kids getting to see other kids like themselves and seeing that they're not alone in this world," she said. 

Reach the reporter at chelsea.curtis@arizonarepublic.com or follow her on Twitter @curtis_chels

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This article originally appeared on The Republic | azcentral.com: Target ad: Toddler's reaction to boy in wheelchair goes viral