5 Ways to Move Beyond Down Syndrome Awareness

It’s Down Syndrome Awareness Month, so we’re bringing you some fast facts about Down syndrome:

  • Down syndrome is a physical and intellectual disability.

  • Down syndrome occurs when an individual has a full or partial extra copy of chromosome 21.

  • Roughly 1 in every 700 babies are born with Down syndrome in the US every single year.

  • Anyone can be born with Down syndrome, no matter race or socioeconomic status.

  • Down syndrome is a naturally occurring disability that is part of the human condition.

Now, wasn’t that fun? We love October not only because fall is in full swing, but because it allows us to bring attention to this disability.


But lately, people have been rallying, saying that these so-called “awareness” months should be rebranded as “acceptance” months. Because many people are already aware of Down syndrome, and the truth is that awareness isn’t enough. We need to be aware, be accepting, and also be inclusive toward those with disabilities.


While the opportunities for someone with Down syndrome have increased tremendously over the past few decades, many of those with Down syndrome are still being excluded. Students with Down syndrome are still being placed in segregated settings. Adults with Down syndrome are still working in sheltered workshops. And the stories of those who aren’t being excluded often come off as “inspiration porn” instead of true inclusion.


So instead of just bringing you some facts to spread awareness, we have some advice on how to truly include those with Down syndrome:

  1. Understand that Down syndrome is not a disease that people suffer from, it’s a condition/disability that people have. Refer to it as such.

  2. Recognize the power of language. Many people in the Down syndrome community prefer the use of person-first language. So, instead of saying “Down syndrome child,” say “child with Down syndrome.”

  3. Realize that segregated special education classrooms are not the only space for students with Down syndrome. Many children with Down syndrome are being included in their neighborhood general education school. As long as the student is being properly supported, they can thrive in this setting. Learn more here: Down Syndrome | Center for Parent Information and Resources (parentcenterhub.org), and here: Inclusion: An Interview with Shelley Moore (dsrf.org).

  4. Similarly, know that people with Down syndrome can and should have the same employment opportunities as everyone else. Not only is October Down Syndrome Awareness Month, it’s also National Disability Employment Awareness Month. Equitable employment opportunities should be an important part of everyone’s life.

  5. Make your community an inclusive space for those with disabilities. You can find resources on how to do so here: Community Life | Institute for Community Inclusion (communityinclusion.org), here: MERGE Diverse Abilities Inclusion Consulting (mergeconsulting.org), and here: Kids Included Together (kit.org). Educate yourself, presume competence, and never forget that inclusion always works.


References

Human Rights Organization for Individuals with Down syndrome | NDSS (ndss.org)

 

Kayla Kingston is the Communications Specialist for MCIE. A recent graduate of the University of Dayton, she loves reading, writing, and supporting all things inclusion.

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