CoorDown – National Coordination of Associations of People with Down syndrome celebrated World Down Syndrome Day on the 21st March through an international campaign created, this year for the first time, with the collaboration of the advertising agency Publicis New York.
The short film “Not Special Needs” – seen above is directed by Wayne McClammy and sees the participation of Lauren Potter, the twenty-seven-year-old actress with Down syndrome who played, among others, the role of Becky Jackson in “Glee”, the hit musical series broadcast by Fox for six seasons and the actor John McGinley, best known for the role of Dr. Perry Cox on the television series “Scrubs”. The supporting cast includes, among others: Sam Suchmann and Mattie Zufelt, two friends with Down syndrome who created the movie “Spring Break Zombie Massacre”, Jared Kozak, the recognized actor with Down syndrome known for Orson’s Last Dance, Leader of the Pack and Teens Wanna Know and newcomer actress Ranjani Reyes.
Coordown say: “The need to receive proper education, to get a job, to live with independence, to catch up with friends, to play sport, to fully exercise our rights as equal citizens are important aspects of life for each of us and needs that no one would dream of defining as “special”. Yet for people with Down syndrome, the label of “special needs” is often used to describe them and their needs.
The term “special needs” is a common euphemism used in reference to people with disabilities. But on closer consideration, people with Down syndrome have the same needs as everyone else: to study, to work, to have the opportunity to speak up and be heard and to be full participants in the community. People with Down syndrome may need extra assistance – sometimes significant assistance – and adjustments – to meet a particular need – but that doesn’t make that common human need “special”. For example, a person who requires some help in speaking, writing or being understood, is still meeting the same human need that we all share – the need to communicate. The only thing that is different is the degree of assistance or the way they meet that need, not the need itself.”
The web platform www.notspecialneeds.com contains relevant articles and insights, including contributions from people with Down syndrome who CoorDown asked to lend their voice and describe their needs. The short film “Not Special Needs” was created together with DSi – Down Syndrome International and with the contribution of Australia Down Syndrome, Down’s Syndrome Association (UK) and Fondation Lejeune (France). The official hashtags of the campaign are: #NotSpecialNeeds and #WDSD17.
The film was presented at the World Down Syndrome Day Conference this year themed “MyVoiceMyCommunity – Enabling people with Down syndrome to speak up, be heard and influence government policy and action, to be fully included in the community”, which is took place on 21 March in New York, the headquarters of the United Nations. CoorDown will be present at the occasion with Irene Galli, a young woman with Down syndrome who will give a short speech to introduce the campaign film and present her own perspective about the campaign. The campaign “Not Special Needs” has very ambitious goals. The main one, again, is to support understanding of Down syndrome and disability within a framework of human diversity: the campaign aims to stimulate a profound reflection on the expression “special needs” and bring to light the contradictions and negative implications inherent in its use to describe people with Down syndrome and their needs. It is not simply about a language preference; it is the starting point for a change in mentality, a change in the cultural approach to disability.
Sergio Silvestre, President of CoorDown Onlus said: “World Down Syndrome Day has great symbolic value forus. It is a day that allows us to talk to everyone, through the campaigns we produce, about many of the issues that are important to people with Down syndrome and their families. We are really proud to count this year on the precious collaboration of Publicis New York and, once again, on the support of international organizations that participated in the project. The main objective of our work is to break down prejudices and stereotypes and contribute to a profound change in attitude towards people with Down syndrome and more generally to the world of disability. We want to give our young people opportunities and tools that can ensure them opportunities and a bright future.”
Andy Bird, chief creative officer, Publicis New York added: “The term “special needs” is an euphemistic way to speak about persons with disabilities and their needs. The reality is people with Down Syndrome do not have different or special needs, although they may sometimes meet those needs in different ways, they have the same needs as all of us… jobs, friends, love and simply the need to be seen and treated equally. We are so proud of this work for our incredible partner CoorDown who does so much great work courageously challenging preconceptions, and we hope our film maybe goes a little way to changing how people view those with Down syndrome.”
World Down Syndrome Day is an international event – officially sanctioned by a UN resolution – created to raise awareness and knowledge about Down syndrome, change attitudes and promote the inclusion of all people with Down syndrome in our society – within the broader framework of respect for human diversity. The choice of the date 21/3 is not accidental: Down syndrome, also called Trisomy 21, is characterized by the presence of an extra chromosome – three instead of two – in the 21st chromosome pair within the cells.