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'Change The Box' for People With Down Syndrome in the Paralympics

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I was so excited when Mr. Andrew Boys from London asked me to speak at The United Nations in New York for World Down Syndrome Day last March. I was able to tell the world about something I feel is very unfair and needs to be changed. I want the International Paralympic Committee to add a new category of Intellectual Impairment to the Paralympics, and I need your help!

The Paralympics divides athletes into boxes. Boxes one through 10 are different types of physical impairments, 11 through 13 are visual impairments and 14 is intellectual impairment.

Down syndrome just gets thrown into the big “intellectual impairment” box. This box is for people with an IQ of less than 75 — that’s the qualifier. The issue is, we often have physical issues: muscle-tone, joint, visual, heart or thyroid issues plus being very short. That extra chromosome is part of every cell in our body. By making us compete for slots on the team against able-bodied, tall, strong athletes, we are not really included, in reality we are excluded, so you will never see a swimmer with Down syndrome in the Paralympics however hard they train. A simple test is all you need to tell you we have both, physical and intellectual impairments. There are around 8 million of us around the world. I think we need our own box! That seems fair. It would give us something to work for and train like a champion. It would give us role models we can relate to.

When I was at the UN I learned in many countries people are told to just leave their baby with Down syndrome at the hospital. They get hidden away and people think they can’t do anything. That is so sad, can you believe it? Imagine if people in those countries saw swimmers with Down syndrome winning Olympic medals. Would they still think we were worth nothing?

Australians like me love sport, and they like a fair go, but I don’t think we’re getting one. I am asking people all over the world to help me change this. Please join me on my Facebook page “Change the Box” and sign and share my petition. Share with as many people as you can.

It’s OK to put us in a box — but please make it our own box, and definitely one with no lid! Why should it have no lid? Because we may just want to fly! Let’s do this.

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Originally published: May 19, 2017
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