Learning Disability Today
Supporting professionals working in learning disability and autism services

World Down Syndrome Day: charities call to end stereotypes

This World Down Syndrome Day (21st March), campaign groups from around the world are calling on the general public to ‘end the stereotypes’ about people with Down’s syndrome.

This year’s theme challenges prevailing narratives about people with Down’s syndrome and learning disabilities, and spreads awareness about what people with Down’s syndrome can do, as opposed to what they cannot do.

Disability charities say stereotypes are harmful, and they can stop people with disabilities from being treated equally.

For example, Down Syndrome International (DSI) says: “Stereotypes, biases and low expectations strongly affect every aspect of the lives of people with intellectual disabilities.

“They represent an often-impassable boundary that limits their ambitions; their opportunities at school, in the workplace, in sports, in their communities, friendships and romantic relationships.”

‘Assume That I Can’

Down Syndrome International are also supporting an awareness campaign from their network member CoorDown, called ‘Assume That I Can’.

This campaign calls for everyone to put an end to prejudice and support the concrete potential of each person who has Down syndrome.

As part of the campaign, CoorDown have released a short film, which shows how perceptions of people with Down’s syndrome can fuel a ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’.

The video was inspired by the words of Marta Sodano, a 29-year-old Italian woman with Down syndrome.

Speaking at the World Down Syndrome Day Conference at the United Nations, Marta said: “I discovered that in psychology there is a concept called “self-fulfilling prophecy”, whereby a teacher who thinks that a student cannot understand would just act accordingly and therefore they would not teach the student. And there you go: the prophecy self-fulfills.

“But in my opinion, there are no difficult or easy concepts, there is always a simple way to explain things. If I think of all the things that were not explained and taught to me, well I really get angry.”

The self-fulfilling prophecy

The self-fulfilling prophecy is a concept which illustrates how people’s assumptions and expectations affect events to such an extent that the initial prophecy comes true. For example, if a teacher believes a student with Down syndrome cannot understand a concept, they would not teach it to a student.

The short film explores these perceptions, before turning the narrative on its head, asking the viewer to consider what would happen if it was assumed that people with Down’s syndrome can do things like learn Shakespeare, live on their own, have jobs and go to parties.

Please note: this video contains some explicit language.

Madison Tevlin, a model, advocate and actress from Canada, starred in the film. Madison is the first person with Down syndrome to be nominated for a Canadian Screen Award – Best Host, Talk Show or Entertainment News.

Madison said DSI that she loves to challenge misunderstandings by presenting her own story as a person who has passions and goals and is capable of much more than people expect of her.

Luca Lorenzini and Luca Pannese, Executive Creative Directors, SMALL New York, told DSI they wanted to make a “very different film” than previous years, which sends out a strong message against prejudice.

They said: “Thanks to Madison’s great acting skills and versatility and the talent of director Rich Lee, we made a film full of energy that we hope will help break down the stereotypes that still restrict the dreams and plans of people with Down syndrome.”

Down Syndrome International call for health equity for people with disabilities

At this year’s World Down Syndrome Day Conference in New York, the Down Syndrome International network will also be launching a new project calling for health equity for people with disabilities.

The campaign aims to raise awareness and gather evidence about the health equity of people with Down syndrome around the world, and advocate for changes in policy and legislation.

DSI has produced a short video explaining the campaign and what it hopes to achieve.

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