Simone Botha Welgemoed is a former beauty queen from South Africa, a dancer, and a model who also happens to have a hearing impairment. Not many companies make an effort to feature models with disabilities in their ads, so when Virgin Active invited Welgemoed to participate, she was ecstatic to be able to represent her community and inspire other people who live with hearing impairments too…but when she saw the finished ad, she was outraged.
They had literally edited away her disability.The cochlear implant allows her to hear, and without it, she would hear nothing at all. She received the implant at just 22 months of age – the youngest person to receive one in South Africa – and isn’t ashamed of it. When they took it away, she decided to make a powerful statement about how society views people with disabilities.
Life isn’t perfect. No one is perfect. I am proudly hearing impaired and was happy to inspire through Virgin Active that people with hearing disabilities also lead and enjoy an active and healthy lifestyle.”
But she wasn’t done.
But I guess you don’t think we do. I guess my cochlear implant shamed you so much that you had to edit it out. Well you just edited out a part of who I am and didn’t ask my permission and I’m not ok with that.” She wrote.
Virgin Active responded by posting the original picture and removing the billboard with their thoughtless edits.The team responsible for the campaign invited Welgemoed to their offices to discuss what had happened, and she helped them understand exactly why their actions were so horrible. They apologized and will now use the original picture – complete with her implant – on their billboards moving forward.