Each year, World Down Syndrome Day celebrates and raises awareness of individuals who have Down syndrome, emphasizing their “vital role in our lives and communities.” Today is the tenth anniversary of World Down Syndrome Day, and this year’s specific focus is on opportunities and choices for individuals with Down syndrome.
“‘My Opportunities, My Choices’ – Enjoying Full and Equal Rights and the Role of Families” is the title of the focus this year. An information pamphlet found on the Down Syndrome International website explains the crucial role of opportunity and choice in the life of an individual with Down syndrome, as well as the society changes that can be made to foster greater consideration and respect for people with Down syndrome across the world.
There are many challenges faced by individuals with Down syndrome, including abandonment, being aborted, segregation and discrimination, abuse, and not always being afforded the rights to work and marry or have children. Sadly, all of these challenges would disappear if the Lives of all people with special needs were valued. Individuals with Down syndrome have health and development challenges that offer their own source of struggle; adding discrimination and abuse to these hurdles is wholly unjust – and in many cases deadly.
Studies estimate that between 67% and 92% of babies diagnosed with Down syndrome in utero are aborted. That babies with Down syndrome are aborted before their parents even meet them hearkens to the chilling reality that societal perceptions of Down syndrome are vastly negative. In other words, the conclusion has been drawn about people with Down syndrome before their individual personalities and abilities even come to the fore – if they are ever allowed to at all (by parents, educators, medical professionals, employers, and the general public).
Down Syndrome International posits that families are integral to effecting a culture shift in the way individuals with Down syndrome are treated and accepted:
In order for people with Down syndrome to enjoy full and equal rights, their families, who have a deep personal interest in their well-being, must be informed and empowered to promote the equal status of their family members in society, so that they can provide support, advocate for opportunities and choices in all aspects of life and crucially so that they can empower people with Down syndrome to express their own views freely on all matters affecting them and make their own decisions, as well as advocate for themselves.
Down Syndrome International says that families can make a “positive contribution” towards achieving full and equal rights for individuals with Down syndrome. And the role of families begins before a child with Down syndrome is born. The first duty of families is to ensure that protection and respect for their loved one with Down syndrome begins in the womb.