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

World Down Syndrome Day: what does inclusion mean to you?

Every year on 21st March, World Down Syndrome Day is celebrated by thousands of people across the globe.

World Down Syndrome Day is about celebrating individuals with Down Syndrome and advocating for full inclusion in communities and society. For this reason, this year’s theme is ‘Inclusion Means’.

Inclusion means…

In the general principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD), the UN calls for: “full and effective participation and inclusion in society”. However, Down Syndrome International (DSi) say this is sadly not the reality for many people with a disability.

There are many reasons as to why this is, but the charity says this is primarily because there is a lack of agreed understanding about what inclusion is and what inclusive systems look like in practice.

So, this year, DSi is encouraging you to think about what inclusions means, by asking: are you included? Do you have the same opportunities as others, or do you face barriers? Do you participate in inclusive activities? Or are they segregated?

By asking these questions, DSi hope to start a meaningful conversation about Down syndrome and make sure that people with Down syndrome have the same freedoms and opportunities as everybody else.

Equal access to education

Every child has the right to good quality education and the promotion of lifelong learning opportunities. Yet children with Down syndrome are often not given the support they need to succeed in mainstream school.

While many children with Down syndrome are pushed into special education systems, some are denied education altogether. 

Research suggests that appropriate education in inclusive settings provides the best opportunities for children with Down Syndrome. DSi are therefore calling for:

  • Full access to education settings for child with Down syndrome, without segregation or exclusion;
  • Equal support and learning opportunities for every child; and
  • Equal opportunities to develop interests, make friends and gain confidence and independence.

Inclusive job opportunities

With the right support, people with Down syndrome can make substantial contributions in the workplace and can have a hugely positive impact on companies’ organisational health.

However, according to the Down’s Syndrome Association, people with Down syndrome often face barriers and prejudice, lack of opportunities, low expectations, stereotyping and other negative attitudes.

And while in recent years more workplaces have begun to open their doors to people with disabilities, the charity says more needs to be done to improve opportunities.

To do this, DSi wants to see employers provide work opportunities without segregation or exclusion, support people with Down syndrome to apply for jobs and develop their careers, and give people the opportunities to show the contribution they can make.

Access to healthcare

It has long been recognised that people with Down syndrome experience poorer health outcomes than in the general population.

This is because people with Down syndrome often face barriers to good healthcare, namely due to a lack of understanding among health professionals, diagnostic overshadowing, reliance on family or carers, and the fact that people with learning disabilities are less likely, or less able to, self-report health issues.

To ensure that people with Down syndrome have the best chance of living healthy and long lives, DSi says healthcare professionals must ensure that any health diagnosis is based on what is presented, without any bias or discrimination.

They also state that people with Down syndrome must be closely and continuously monitored for health conditions, and treatments must take place when they are required.

It is particularly important that people with Down syndrome are directly involved in their care and supported to understand their own healthcare needs and make their own choices, they add.

Inclusive language

The language we use to talk about people with Down syndrome is an extremely important tool that can be used to help frame perceptions.

One campaign, Language Creates Reality, explores how significant our word choices are when it comes to talking about people with Down syndrome.

For example, conveying respect by using person-first language – a baby with Down syndrome, not a Down syndrome baby – and focusing on the person as an individual rather than as a distinct group.

The campaign also highlights the importance of referring to Down syndrome as a syndrome or a condition, not an illness or a disease, by saying, for example, someone “has” Down syndrome, rather than they “suffer” from it.

How can you show your support?

To ensure people with Down syndrome have “full and effective participation and inclusion in society”, it is vital they have equal access to education, employment opportunities and healthcare.

To do this, people with Down syndrome must be seen as equal to everyone else, and using the right language is an important way to convey respect.

To show your support on World Down Syndrome Day, you can get involved with the Lots Of Socks campaign by wearing some loud, colourful or mismatched socks that are going to get noticed.

The idea is to start a conversation and encourage others to learn about Down syndrome and encourage equal participation in society. 

DSi now want to see schools, companies, civil groups, governments and communities come together to show their support and promote full inclusion.


To find out more, please visit worlddownsyndromeday.org.

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