This year, in honor of World Down Syndrome Day (which was this Monday!), Italian advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi released a touching video which shows famous (neurotypical) actress Olivia Wilde demonstrating all of the ways that she sees herself– as someone who people can rely on, someone who laughs (and occasionally cries), someone who achieves her goals… Then, a young woman named AnnaRose, who has Down Syndrome, comes into the screen and says, “This is how I see myself. How do you see me?” The purpose of this video to help viewers identify their own bias and raise awareness about the ways that we, as a society, view people with disabilities.
The video shines light on an interesting and important issue in today’s society– that we tend to see people with disabilities just for their disabilities, when they are so much more. They are singers, dancers, athletes, thinkers, and so much more. They have their own personalities… One person with Down Syndrome is not the same as the next person with Down Syndrome. Given each person’s many unique talents, interests, and quirks, we must ensure that we value and appreciate all people (with and without disabilities) as the complex individuals that they are.
The one place, in my opinion, where this video falls short is that it fails to recognize that AnnaRose’s life is affected by her disability. In some ways, by ignoring that part of her identity, it communicates that her disability is something for her to shed. AnnaRose is a complex person with many interests, aspirations, and talents. She also has a disability that affects the ways in which she thinks and learns. AnnaRose’s Down Syndrome is one of many parts of who she is, and when we choose to ignore that, we communicate that it is a less important or less valuable part of her identity. In a way, this communicates that disabilities are something to be ashamed of, but we should be celebrating these differences and appreciating the ways in which they enrich the lived experiences of all people in our communities!
On Monday, I couldn’t help but think of the many people with Down Syndrome who have shaped the course of my life. In particular, I thought of a friend named Colin, who I did theater with. Colin has Down Syndrome. He is also an excellent swimmer, loves to sing and dance, takes great care of his family’s dog, Patty Cake, and is a very optimistic, empathetic, and kind person. Colin has all of these wonderful qualities and talents to celebrate and appreciate, but his Down Syndrome has also affected who he is. If we forget about that, then we ignore part of who Colin is, and we want to appreciate him for every part of his identity.
This week (and this month, and this year), take time to celebrate the people in your life who have shaped the way that you view Down Syndrome and disabilities in general. Do not remove the disability from these people’s identities, but instead see all that they value, do, and appreciate. I know I can’t imagine my life without Colin!
— Written by Elise Hopkins, KIT Blog Editor
Kids Included Together (KIT) is a non-profit located in San Diego, CA and Washington, DC. We help make the world a more inclusive place by providing live and online training to people who work with kids. We teach strategies, accommodations and best practices to include kids with and without disabilities in before & after school programs. Inclusive environments create stronger communities. Learn more about our work at www.KITonline.org.