I didn’t see the movie “The Peanut Butter Falcon” until two weeks ago. The movie starred Zack Gottsagen, a 34-year-old actor who has Down syndrome. I had heard of it before and remember also hearing that Zack was the first person with Down syndrome to present at the Academy Awards this year.
I also follow the Global Down Syndrome Foundation on Facebook and often see posts reflecting a variety of “firsts” for people in the Down syndrome community. With World Down Syndrome Day (March 21) only two weeks away, I thought this would be a great time to celebrate some of these firsts.
I found an article written by Sandra McElwee, author and “Chief Dream Facilitator” for her son, titled “Born This Way Opens Minds and Doors” that provided me with a list of firsts, some of which I would like to share:
Kayla McKeon is the first registered Capitol Hill lobbyist with Down syndrome who has already helped achieve passage of the ABLE to Work Act in 2018. In 2018, Jamie Brewer became the first woman with Down syndrome to star in an off-Broadway play “Amy and the Orphan.” Also in 2018, Gerber introduced their first Gerber spokesbaby with Down syndrome, Lucas Warren. The first ever Down syndrome improvisation troupe was formed in Ohio. Blake Pyron of Blake’s Snow Shack — the first to open the New York Stock Exchange in March of 2018 — was also the first person with Down syndrome to own his own business in Texas in 2016.
McElwee’s complete list can be found at http://seanese.com/blogs/main/born-this-way-opens-minds-and-doors.
After completing my research on the “firsts,” I decided to move to the most famous and found a list of the ten most famous individuals with Down syndrome at http://listverse.com/2019. From No. 10 to No. 1 the list includes Angela Bachiller (politician), Collette Divitto (entrepreneur), Jamie Brewer (actor), Marte Wexelsen Goksoyr (playwright), Judith Scott (sculptor), Madeline Stuart (supermodel), Pablo Pineda (actor, academic), Sujeet Desai (musician), Karen Gaffney (athlete), and Isabella Springmuhl Tejada (designer). This list proves that the achievements of people with Down syndrome is as diverse as any other population.
All of these accolades are amazing and noteworthy, but I also know local people with Down syndrome who have also worked hard and touched lives. People like Becca Winegar, Reed Hahne and Melanie Peterson who, with their words and actions, have changed the perspective of people with Down syndrome specifically and people with disabilities in general every day.
It is important to realize and share these accomplishments for future couples who may one day be told that the baby they are expecting will be born with Down syndrome. Armed with this knowledge, instead of asking, “What will they be able to do,” they can phrase the question as, “What won’t they be able to do?” Maybe one day, there won’t be so many lists of firsts because accomplishing great things for people with Down syndrome will be perceived as the norm.
Oh, and by the way, I really enjoyed “Peanut Butter Falcon.”