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Leaders in Action: Individuals With Down Syndrome Who Are Making Headlines

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October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month, and to spotlight the occasion, here are a few individuals with Down Syndrome who are doing amazing things.

October is Down syndrome Awareness Month, a time to celebrate individuals with Down syndrome whose contributions have a significant impact on our lives and communities. It is also a time to dispel stereotypes and share truths about common misconceptions.

Long-held perceptions about how people with Down syndrome are being challenged, and yet there is a long way to go to get to a place where society views people with Down syndrome as the valued community members, achievers, innovators and leaders that they’ve shown themselves to be. Here are just a few examples of influential people with Down syndrome who are making a significant impact on our lives and communities.

1. Chris Nikic

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Chris Nikic became the first person with Down Syndrome to complete an Ironman triathlon last November, when the 22-year-old completed the 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, and 26.2-mile run in a race in Florida. Nikic finished within a 17-hour cut-off, clocking a time of 16 hours, 46 minutes, and 9 seconds. On July 11, Nikic accepted the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance at the 2021 ESPYS. This significant victory helped push boundaries and reshape what it means to be an athlete with Down Syndrome.

Colorado Athletic Resource: Special Olympics Colorado Special Olympics Colorado is a resource for active children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The organization provides year-round sports training and competition in a variety of sports:

2. The Stars of the Docuseries "Born this Way”

Image of casting Sean McElwee, Rachel Osterbach, and John Tucker from the docuseries Born this Way
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Sean McElwee, Rachel Osterbach, and John Tucker are just three of the stars featured in the Emmy award-winning reality show Born This Way - a docuseries that follows the lives of seven young adults with Down syndrome living in Southern California and working hard to overcome obstacles and achieve goals. The show sheds light on important topics such as entrepreneurship within the Down Syndrome community, the significance of people with disabilities participating in the democratic process, and what it means to be a family member of someone with Down Syndrome. This Emmy award-winning show shines a positive and realistic light on a diverse group of engaging individuals while simultaneously challenging perceptions and misconceptions about the Down syndrome community.

Film Resource: RespectAbility RespectAbility’s mission is to fight stigmas and advance opportunities for people with disabilities. Their entertainment and news media program and annual Summer Lab helps to develop and promote a pipeline of professionals with disabilities working in television and film.

3. Madeline Stuart

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Madeline Stuart is the first international model with Down syndrome. Stuart began her rise to modeling fame in 2018 and quickly began to make headlines. Her consistent push against common beauty standards and focused determination have propelled her into success and helped to bridge the divide between the Down Syndrome and modeling communities. During her career, Stuart has walked the runway at New York Fashion Week and has been pictured in newspapers and magazines.

Advocacy Resource: Global Down Syndrome Foundation Global Down Syndrome Foundation is a nonprofit that celebrates people's individuality through research, medical care, education, and advocacy. The organization hosts an annual fundraiser called Be Beautiful Be Yourself Fashion Show, which is the single-largest annual fundraiser benefiting people with Down syndrome.

4. Isabelle Woloson

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Isabelle Woloson is among the first women with Down syndrome to graduate from a four-year Colorado College. In 2016, Woloson watched as Senator John Hickenlooper signed Senate Bill 16-196, an inclusive higher education program that creates pathways for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) to attend college. Just five years later, Woloson graduated from the University of Northern Colorado with a degree in communications and a goal of becoming a life coach. With her education, motivation, and spirit, she is poised to do great things. Education Resource: IN! Colorado Initiative for Inclusive Higher Education IN! creates inclusive college opportunities for students with intellectual disabilities in Colorado and works to help students find successful employment opportunities after graduation.

5. Judith Scott (May 1, 1943 – March 15, 2005)

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Judith Scott was an American fiber sculptor, born deaf and with Down syndrome. Scott was institutionalized for most of her life, but in 1987 she was introduced to Creative Growth, a nonprofit organization that advances the inclusion of artists with disabilities. From there, Scott quickly became internationally renowned for her art at the age of 43. Scott used fabric as her form of creative expression to create complex sculptures using yarn, twine, and strips of fabric. Scott passed away from natural causes at the age of 62, but her legacy and art continue to inspire people world-wide.

Colorado Art Resource: Access Gallery Access Gallery provides creative, educational, and economic opportunities for people with I/DD to access, experience, and benefit from the arts. Access Gallery supports young adults and artists with I/DD via their efforts to integrate their work into the community.

Colorado Employment Resource: Easterseals Colorado

Easterseals Colorado IPS Supported Employment program tackles employment barriers for people with I/DD living in Denver. The program works with individuals to teach vital job skills, increase employment opportunities, and help those employed to stay employed.

Rocky Mountain Human Services in a non-profit organization that takes a human-centered approach to improving the health, self-sufficiency, and overall quality of life for those that we support. For more articles on living with and supporting individuals with an I/DD, subscribe to our newsletter.

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