How can Europe ensure inclusion for people with Down Syndrome?

HUMAN DIGNITY FOR EVERYONE

As human beings, our value is equal regardless if we have a disability or not. We should all be celebrated as persons with rights and dignity. Each one of us have unique aspects of us that make us who we are. It doesn’t matter if someone has a disability or not, our value is equal and we should all be celebrated as human beings with rights and dignity. We all have unique aspects of us that make us who we are. Unfortunately, disabilities such as Down Syndrome used to be looked at as a liability due to ignorance. Luckily, there is much more awareness nowadays on that people with Down Syndrome are just like everyone else and that differences and diversity in all forms should be celebrated. We have the Down Syndrome Day, declared by United Nations in 2012 as part of an effort to bring awareness. It is celebrated every year on the March 21st, symbolizing the third chromosome on the 21st pair, which is the genetical cause of Down Syndrome, also known as Trisomy 21. This particular day, we show solidarity with people with Down Syndrome by wearing socks by different colors, with the message that it shouldn’t matter if someone is different.

THE EVENT

On March 18th, a large international conference about Down Syndrome was organized by EU the initiative EU for Trisomy 21. EU for Trisomy 21 is a platform to promote collaboration between organizations, citizens and politicians in order to raise awareness and encourage more people to participate in the celebration of Down Syndrome Day. They are working towards the goal that people with disabilities should be given priority on the European agenda in order to guarantee real equality between citizens. The theme was ’What can Europe do?’ – the main topic of discussion was about what Europe can do for people with Down Syndrome. It is indeed an important discussion that was made which highlighted issues that people with Down Syndrome often face such as visibility, autonomy, inclusion, dignity and non-discrimination. Several solutions to bring forward change were presented.

STORIES THAT WERE TOLD

First, parents of children with Down syndrome and people with Down syndrome shared their side and their obstacles. Natalie, a young woman with Down Syndrome, shared her experiences and recalled some of the challenges she faced. Sanna, a mother of two children with Down Syndrome, spoke about ways to inclusion and non-discrimination. She mentioned how change can come through legislation and education. Another point she brought up was the need to hold our governments accountable and ensuring that the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities are implemented to ensure people with disabilities can live dignified lives and have freedom. On education, she mentioned the importance of dispelling the myths and misconceptions – and showing the truth on how it can enrich our lives.

She mentioned a very important quote by Pearl Buck being as follows ’’The test of a civilization is the way it cares for its helpless members’’. It is indeed quite thought provoking and very true. After all, can a society really claim to be for human dignity if the human dignity is conditional? Another panel member spoke about the challenges parents of children with Down syndrome can face and urged the EU to do efforts to ensure equal access to health, education, employment as well as to reflect and provide responses to needs for sustainable developments concerning existing legislations, policies and practice to enable participation for people with Down Syndrome.

Two members from the European Parliament then offered their perspective in these aspects. François-Xavier Bellamy (France) spoke about the dignity of the person, how we all have a role in this world and how we can promote dignity. Katrin Langensiepen (Germany) recalled how she is the only woman with a disability in the whole parliament and stressed how political participation for people with disability is still a problem. Another problem she highlighted was the lack of inclusion for people with disabilities in the work-field.

HOPE FOR THE FUTURE

I found this conference to be very inspiring and hopeful. From a young age, I was aware of Down Syndrome as a neighboring family had a daughter with Trisomy 21. We became close friends. This girl was one of the most joyful and kindest people I ever encountered, and I am glad we are spreading awareness of the problems people with Down Syndrome face, as it makes me more optimistic for her and her future as well. Together, with education and awareness, we can break down barriers for people with Down Syndrome and remove stereotypes. I am looking forward towards a brighter future where the rights of people with Down Syndrome are protected and where we as a society truly cherish the concept of human dignity for everyone.

Published: April 16, 2021
Written by Sophie Snellman, a WYA Europe intern from Sweden