People with Down Syndrome are showing the world that there should be no limitations to what they can achieve.
Karen Gaffney amazed Irish audiences in 2017 when she shared her story of becoming a champion swimmer, TED talker and recipient of an honorary doctorate, shattering many of the stereotypes of people with Down Syndrome – as did passionate activist Charlie Fien who has defied expectations to become a sought-after speaker, and undertake studies at third level, driven by grit and determination and a desire to show that show that disability need not mean unnecessary limitations.
Here are 10 amazing stories of brilliant breakthroughs made by people with Down Syndrome in 2019 alone:
Much-requested funeral director shows way for employment for people with Down Syndrome
“He leads funerals, he cares for families,” said his co-worker at the beginning of this BBC report about Matthew Jacques, who works as a funeral director in Leicestershire and provides such excellent and dignified service that he is always in demand.
Matthew is thought to be the only funeral director working in the UK with Down’s syndrome, but Shane Mouseley and Son Funeral Directors said bereaved families they work with often specifically request Mr Jacques to work at a funeral.
The BBC report showed Matthew reading a thank you card from one family which said: ‘Thank you for making dad’s funeral so special’.
Actor with Down Syndrome stars in major film – and saves Shia LaBeouf!
Florida actor, Zack Gottsagen is a theatre major graduate of the Dreyfoos School of the Arts who also happens to have Down Syndrome. He is the son of Shelley Gottsagen and her wife, Navy and Air Force veteran Trish Carland.
In 2019, he started in “a modern Mark Twain style adventure story, The Peanut Butter Falcon, which tells the story of Zak (Gottsagen), a young man with Down syndrome, who runs away from a residential nursing home to follow his dream of attending the professional wrestling school of his idol, The Salt Water Redneck, played by Thomas Haden Church.
A strange turn of events pairs him on the road with Tyler, played by Shia LaBeouf, a small time outlaw on the run, who becomes Zak’s unlikely coach and ally. Together they wind through deltas, elude capture, drink whisky, find God, and catch fish.
Off-set, even more powerful events were happening however. In a Channel 4 interview, Shia LaBeouf says that Zack saved him after he went off the rails. La Beouf went through a string of embarrassing incidents culminated in his being arrested and charged with disorderly conduct, obstruction, and public drunkenness.
The day after his arrest, LaBeouf rejoined the cast of the movie — and says Zack put his hand on his shoulder and brought him back from what he has described as a “twisted” time in his life.
Gottsagen’s mother has said that LaBeouf agreed then and there not to touch alcohol for the rest of filming and that he hasn’t had a drink since. When asked whether the movie saved him, LaBeouf said it did.
First Egyptian flight attendant with Down syndrome wows on air trip
The Egypt Independent reports:
Heba Atef became the first-ever Egyptian flight attendant with Down syndrome to embark on a special flight from Cairo to Khartoum entitled “The Journey of Humanity,” starting on Saturday, November 30 and lasting until Thursday, December 5 2019
Atef, a student at the Arab Open University in Egypt (AOU), accompanied a group of passengers with special needs alongside their families during the journey.
In collaboration with the Badr Aviation Company and Smart Mind Training Center in Khartoum, the remarkable “Journey of Humanity” took place under the sponsorship of the UN International Committee and was specifically tailored for people with special needs.
No challenge is too big for Atef, however, who joined the department of Radio and Television at her university, launching her career as a TV presenter. She presented at the Bokra Ahla (Tomorrow is Better) Conference addressing people with special needs.
Young scaffolder wins On the Tools Award for top Apprentice
The Swinford Advertiser reports that a scaffolder living with Down’s syndrome was named Britain’s number one apprentice.
Swindon’s Todd Scanlon won a public vote for the 2019 On The Tools award after being nominated for overcoming his fear of heights, and for his boundless energy and commitment to learn new skills as part of his apprenticeship.
Todd told the paper: “It feels great to win the award. “I wanted to go in to scaffolding because it’s my favourite thing to do.” More than 4,500 people voted for the 30-year-old to win the honour
His boss, the owner of Coles Scaffolding company Martyn Coles, said Todd had great determination. “He comes in every day and proves people wrong. Winning the award just shows he can do it.
“Having him on the site is great, he’s a good presence, all of the customers like him and he’s very polite.
Teen Artist with Down Syndrome Hosts an Art Exhibition in Chicago
“Why fit in when we are born to stand out?” That’s the motto of Emmett Kyoshi, a teenage artist living with Down syndrome in Chicago. ABC reports that the quote from Dr. Seuss is a slogan the 14-year-old lives by – and he is using his talents to help others.
Emmett hosted his third art exhibit in Chicago in 2019 “showing the world that the extra chromosome he was born with is anything but a disability.”
“He sees what he creates and you can see how proud he is when he walks in the room,” said Paul Wilson, Emmett’s father. “When we were getting ready for the show and compiling all the art, you could see it in his eyes. He has such pride in producing the work.”
Emmett first picked up a paintbrush at the age of 4, discovering a world beyond his physical limitations.
“He’s giving us an opportunity to show what he’s actually able to do, and do it in a manner that goes beyond anything I can do myself,” said Kathy Menighan, Emmett’s mother. “He still has trouble picking up a pencil and writing his name. He writes his name the same way in every painting. But when he paints, he will pick up a brush, he’ll use both hands. He’ll do charcoal and he creates these pieces that you can’t tell him what to do. You can’t even suggest a color. It just comes out of him.”
Proceeds from the Emmett’s art exhibition went in part to the Jackson Chance Foundation, providing complimentary parking passes to families with babies in the NICU.
Thomas’s amazing socks
Christmas shoppers in Dublin love the zany designs and super personality all wrapped up in Thomas’s Trendy Socks. Thomas Barry from Tallaght is the owner of Thomas’s Trendy Socks, and his stall at the Christmas Market in Dublin’s Dún Laoghaire attracts a huge amount of attention every year.
Thomas has Down Syndrome and other serious illnesses including a heart murmur and an under-active thyroid. However, his Dad Finbar says that’s never stopped Thomas from achieving his dream of owing his own business – and with the help of his family he’s built up a loyal following pf people who like to give and wear funky socks.
Dublin Live reports that the company was inspired by Thomas’s love of socks and his wish for his son to have a career to call his own. “I looked at options over the years in the hope to provide some way for Thomas to feel like he can have a job just like everybody else (bearing in mind his disabilities) and the answer was staring me in the face,” said Dad Finbar.
Rocking the Catwalk
A 4-year-old girl with Down Syndrome has been rocking the fashion catwalks in Malta – with similar stories in Ireland.
From McGill Media:
“Francesca Rausi cast a spell on her audience as she walked the runway at a fashion show for models with a disability in Malta. Her contagious smile made everyone in the audience instantly fall in love with her. Alongside, Madeline Stuart – the world’s first catwalk model with Down Syndrome – Rausi walked the ramp with utmost confidence. Stuart, the 23-year-old, Australian model has been previously credited for proving society’s perception of beauty wrong. She also got the opportunity of walking at the New York Fashion week and meet some of Hollywood’s biggest stars.”
In April 2019 in Ireland, another model with Down Syndrome, Kate Grant headlined a fashion show and fundraiser night in aid of the Down Syndrome Centre North East in Carrickmacross.
The Tyrone native was one of 50 gorgeous models who all have Down Syndrome.
Swanky restaurant staffed by people with Down Syndrome is a “Win for Inclusion”
In Belgium, a high-end French dining establishment staffed almost entirely by people with Down syndrome, has been rated the best eatery in Brussels on Trip Advisor, according to The Mighty.
Based in Brussels, 65 Degrés serves up high-end French food like filet de merlan, spaghettis de pommes de terre and magret de canard (seared duck breast with honey).
65 Degrés also employs almost exclusively people with intellectual disabilities. Most of the current staff — nearly 15 people — have Down syndrome. The establishment’s four co-founders started 65 Degrés in 2018 to provide work opportunities for people with disabilities, including work in the kitchen and as servers in the dining room. According to the founders, hiring people with disabilities isn’t just good for inclusion — it’s good for business.
“You can go to any very nice gastronomic restaurant, you’ll have probably good service, you’ll have obviously very good food,” co-founder Valentin Cogels told OAN. “We work with people who are so happy to be working, they have this pleasure of coming to work everyday, and they are so honest and so transparent that when they ask somebody — ‘how was your day today?’ — they really mean it when they ask.”
Now, 65 Degrés reached a new milestone. The restaurant was rated the best eatery in Brussels on TripAdvisor, topping a list of 2,000 competitors thanks to its great food and unparalleled customer service, according to Reuters.
Dancing up a storm on Spain’s Got Talent
The fifth season of “Spain’s Got Talent” featured a dance group that stood out from the rest.
Got Talent España, is the Spanish version of the international ‘Got Talent’ series, and this dance troups wowed the judges according to Life Shared.
Callingthemselves Flick Flock Danza, this inclusive troupe involves children and adults with physical and mental disabilities, chromosomal differences, and other challenges, according to Inspire More. The group is part of a school that offers classes in classical dance, jazz dance, hip hop, and gymnastics and is headed by director Susana Alcón. “They love dance, it’s their life, they need it, and that’s why they are giving themselves to us,” Susana said, beaming with pride as the group performed on the big stage.
All four judges voted ‘Yes’ for the troupe and they moved on to the next round of the competition.
Belfast actor with Down Syndrome wins major award
A Belfast actor with Down Syndrome, James Martin, won the best actor accolade at the New York City TV festival for his first film, Ups and Downs, a BBC NI drama which tells the story of a road trip to a concert for two siblings.
James told the Belfast Telegraph: “I wasn’t in New York for the ceremony but I got a call from out of the blue to say I’d won the best actor award and I was thrilled.”
“A friend of the writer and director Eoin Cleland picked up the awards and I’m looking forward to getting my hands on my trophy.”
Ups and Downs also won the best TV award at the ceremony, and previously took the awards at the Great Message International Film Festival in India.
Disability rights campaigner Michael O’Dowd said the award was a “fantastic achievement”.“This is a fantastic achievement by James Martin for his brilliant portrayal of Conal. People with Down syndrome excel when given the right opportunities and support and they are breaking barriers across a range of areas,” he said.
“James is not alone and another young actor with Down syndrome Zack Gottsagen is being touted as a potential Oscar nominee for his part in the movie The Peanut Butter Falcon. Well done to these young trailblazers.”
Máirín de Barra writes from Dublin