Every year, as World Down Syndrome Day is commemorated, I find myself deep in introspection, reflecting on those who, by a unique design of nature, are born to a world where their difference has too often been made a barrier to inclusion and acceptance.
Hundreds of thousands of children with Down Syndrome are stigmatized, denied access to education, healthcare, and a full social integration.
I reflect on opportunities lost to their exclusion, a blight on our collective humanity.
World Down Syndrome Day (WDSD), commemorated on March 21, is a global awareness day which has been officially observed by the United Nations since 2012.
Read more: IWD 2023: Women, inclusion and innovation by Adaoha Ugo-Ngadi
It was selected to signify the uniqueness of the triplication (trisomy) of the 21st chromosome which causes Down syndrome.
I am glad that the theme for this year’s commemoration is ‘We Decide’, a focus on the right of people living with Down Syndrome to participate.
I strongly believe this is apt. It reinforces the call for all of society to include and fully involve those living with Down Syndrome.
I have often wondered how much more progress we would have had the world over if people who are differently abled are not left out of the course of building society, but integrated to express their natural gifts.
All across the globe, there is an abundance of documented stories of exclusion, abuse and displacement.
In parts of Africa, people living with Down Syndrome are considered taboo over superstitious beliefs that they are not normal.
This shatters the soul. Oh, how the hold of ignorance has deprived our people of the capacity to appreciate and welcome nature’s unique design!
Given the level of ignorance and misinformation around Down Syndrome, it is important that concerted effort must be made to embark on widespread enlightenment campaigns, orientation and education in multiple domains.
Schools, medical institutions, religious institutions, cultural institutions and political institutions must all be included.
We must work hard to open the eyes of people to the true facts about Down Syndrome, leading them to a new level of enlightenment and acceptance.
To truly build a society that is inclusive of everyone, especially those who are different and special, we must empower all the people with knowledge and insights into the unique attributes of these oft-marginalized set of people.
They must be educated to accept and welcome them into the heart of society, becoming their brothers and sisters indeed.
But more importantly, mankind must quickly appreciate that the best approach to deal with the vulnerable is to sufficiently learn or perfect how to connect with them.
This is the way of humanity. This is the way of progress.
For governments across the world, clear policies and laws must be passed to integrate, support and empower people with Down Syndrome. Their fate must not be left to the voluntary goodwill of the people.
Their rights must be codified and enforced. They must not be subject to discrimination, stigmatization and exclusion.
Their lives are valuable. Their lives are priceless.
This fight is for all of us. We must treat it as a sacred responsibility.
Every person living with Down Syndrome must cease to have a target on their backs, and instead become a normal part of the global family. We must decide this today!
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