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Thank You, People Magazine, for Helping to Spread Down Syndrome Awareness

Hilary Gauld-Camilleri, an acclaimed Canadian photographer, has garnered recent attention with her “Believe With Me” spread in People magazine which features people with Down syndrome.

Frankly, I was intrigued. Photoshoots like this are not new. My daughter, who is 21, was part of Down syndrome awareness calendars that used similar ideas almost 20 years ago,  and continue to this day. She was also part of the Toys ‘R Us campaign that for years included people with disabilities in their Christmas toy catalogs.

My daughter has friends with Down syndrome who have won Emmys, started their own successful businesses, broken college athletic records, professionally lobbied on Capitol Hill, and so much more. They sometimes get media attention, but rarely in People magazine.  I was puzzled at this coveted spread in People magazine featuring everyday people with varied normal interests and goals, who happen to have Down syndrome.

Then it hit me. While I, and so many assume the givens that are shown in “Believe With Me,” and are focused on moving forward, the reality is that in 2021 people with Down syndrome are still widely stereotyped and misunderstood by not just the general public, but by our neighbors, our schools, our places of worship, and our chosen communities.

The needle of progress needs to be moved so much that it is going to take a massive effort on all fronts, with varied approaches. Ms. Gauld-Camilleri using her gift of photography to move the needle is just as valuable as the fact that UPS and some other companies are hiring people with Down syndrome, and targeting them in their marketing as well. “Believe With Me” is just as valuable as Born Fabulous Podcast which celebrates very successful self-advocates. One form of awareness is not “better” than another.

Because the fact is this: Somewhere in America today, a child with Down syndrome is being denied access to general education classes, art classes, music classes, or all of the above. Somewhere in America today a young person with Down syndrome is not given the chance to be hired for a job. Somewhere in America today, non-profits are still using a 1950s model, with kind hearts, that are outdated, and therefore holding back people with Down syndrome.  Somewhere in America, a place of worship is kindly telling a family they “are not prepared” to accommodate their child with a disability in their community in any way. If this People magazine article helps just one person, it is worthy and necessary. And I feel sure it will help more than one person.

So People magazine, thank you for sharing the beautiful “Believe With Me” spread. It certainly has the right title. And to everyone else trying to move the needle in your corner of our shared world, for all people with disabilities,  thank you as well. We are making progress. Slowly but surely.

Screenshot from People Magazine.