World Down Syndrome Day focuses on right to employmentWritten by Jay Hathaway | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Individuals and families around the world and in Toledo are advocating the right to employment for people with Down syndrome this month.
World Down Syndrome Day takes place on March 21, and is driven by an international effort to create awareness and acceptance regarding Down syndrome. The day is officially celebrated with a conference at the United Nations headquarters in New York. The theme for this year’s event is ‘The Right to Work.” Speakers from all over the international community will discus ways in which furthering employment rights for those with Down syndrome can be achieved.
Right to Employment in Toledo
Sherri Rogers is the president of the Down Syndrome Association of Greater Toledo. She is also the mother of a six-year old, Kaiden, who has Down syndrome. They will celebrate World Down Syndrome Day together by appearing on segments of WTOL’s 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. newscasts for the second consecutive year. Kaiden, Rogers noted, is not one to shy away from the limelight, as evident from last year’s appearances.
“He is excited. Last time we did it, he completely stole the show,” she said.
Rogers looks forward to the day when her son is old enough and ready to be able to perform a job that he enjoys, she said.
“I want him in the community. I think it is important to not just place a person in [employment], but to actually find out what that individual wants to do.”
Rogers said that events like World Down Syndrome Day play a significant role in the public’s willingness to accept individuals with Down syndrome in the workplace.
“Our individuals [are] getting out there in the community, kind of proving themselves, if you will,” she said. “They can learn and function and be successful, they might just need a little extra help along the way. That kind of awareness has sort of opened people’s eyes.”
Rogers emphasized that the patience to train workers with Down syndrome plays a vital role in the transition toward acceptance. She cited several local companies and organizations that help the cause through open-mindedness and open policies.
“The Lucas County Board of Developmental Disabilities is really focusing on community inclusion,” Rogers added. “They are really looking to get those with all types of disabilities out into the community, and I think that is helping as well.”
Lon Mitchell is the manager of public affairs for the Lucas County Board of Developmental Disabilities and Lott Industries. He pointed out that the Employment First initiative, put forth in Ohio in 2012 by Gov. John Kasich, has been an effective catalyst in changing perceptions about employing those with disabilities.
“[It] kind of changes the playing field, because it makes the assumption everyone with a disability, including those with Down syndrome, can be employed,” Mitchell said. “It’s up to the individual or the system to show why a person could not be employed. It does just the opposite of what was going on before, where we had to prove somebody could be employable. Now the assumption is that everyone is employable.”
Mitchell explained that the Lucas County Board does not specifically classify or regulate policy for people with Down syndrome, but that each individual may go through an interview process to see how well they function with certain lifestyle challenges, such as counting money and using public transportation. If that person has challenges in enough of those areas, they’re eligible for services, for which some higher functioning people with Down syndrome might not be eligible.
“We look first at an individual’s employability and try to match that person up with the most appropriate job,” Mitchell said. “Sometimes that could be in a workshop setting like Lott industries. But mostly, what we’re looking for is to find a person a job in the community.”
Mitchell listed some local employers who not only have been recognized by the Lucas County Board of Developmental Disabilities for providing employment opportunities, but also for providing a “welcoming environment that makes the employees feel they belong.” This list includes the Rehn Corporation, Calphalon, Maumee Assembly and Stamping, TARTA, the Maumee Indoor Theater and Plate 21 coffee shop.
Rogers also mentioned Plate 21 as an accepting local company, as well as Barry Bagels, Kroger, McDonald’s and Wendy’s.
“It’s really empowering,” Rogers said. “Even in the six years since my son [was born], there has been a huge amount of growth in awareness, and I would like to see that continue.”
Mitchell echoed both Rogers’ assertions that public recognition will come when individuals with Down syndrome gain employment because of what they can do, as opposed to what they cannot.
“We’re trying to create a mindset that looks at the person first. What abilities does that person offer? If we can attack attitudinal barriers that stand in the way, then I think we are opening the doors to many more opportunities.”
A Global Issue
Down Syndrome International (DSi) is based in the United Kingdom, and has coordinated World Down Syndrome Day since its inception in 2006. Though it was observed in many countries around the world from the beginning, the day was not formally recognized by the UN until 2012.
Andrew Boys, director of DSi, has been busy gearing up for this year’s conference. Though he will not attend the UN events in person this year, five members of his board of directors will be there. He said while important progress has been made, there are still many needs to be met for individuals with Down syndrome. One of those needs was the impetus for choosing this year’s theme.
“We, on the board of Down syndrome international, are acutely aware of the need for much more to be done worldwide for the rights of those with Down syndrome to seek and gain employment,” Boys said. “We did an informal survey, though it was worldwide, on the prospect of choosing this topic, and it was very popular, so we basically went with it for that reason.”
In 2008, the UN convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities came into force, and since then, the 192 UN member states have had the onus on them to adopt the principles of the convention into their own national legislation. One of the key articles of the convention is the right to employment and work. Boys noted that the international community has been progressing toward acceptance, but more can be done.
“I believe, to date, something like 130 of the states have ratified the convention,” he said. “What needs to happen, I think, country by country, is that they need to have specific disability legislation that grants these rights to people with Down syndrome, and to people with disabilities in general.”
Getting the public to recognize the talents and abilities of people with Down syndrome is still a primary goal for Boys and DSi, and will continue to be a driving force as long as awareness is lacking.
“It’s important to note that the global Down syndrome community is very aware of the potential of people with Down syndrome,” Boys said. “But for the general public, [many] have no specific contact with people with Down syndrome. All of the events on World Down Syndrome Day, whether it be a conference or something very simple, have the same goal, which is to raise awareness for Down syndrome.”
For more information about World Down Syndrome Day, visit http://www.worlddownsyndromeday.org/.