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There is still much work to be done for people with Down syndrome

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  |  Posted: Wednesday, Mar 07, 2012 04:33 pm

Johanna Hirons of Airdrie recently served as a medal-bearer in Rick Hansen's Man in Motion Tour. The mother of a two-year-old with Down syndrome advocates the full inclusion of people with disabilities in society.
Johanna Hirons of Airdrie recently served as a medal-bearer in Rick Hansen's Man in Motion Tour. The mother of a two-year-old with Down syndrome advocates the full inclusion of people with disabilities in society.
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Re: “Local senior honoured at Rick Hansen relay event” March 2

Dear Editor,

I recently had the privilege of being a medal-bearer in Rick Hansen’s Man in Motion Tour of Canada. I was nominated both for my work with teenagers with behavioural, social and emotional disabilities in a Calgary Outreach high school and as a mom with a two-year-old who was born with three copies of her 21st chromosome (Down syndrome).

It was important to me to be a part of this cause, which promotes full inclusion in the community for people with disabilities because historically, people with Down syndrome have been rejected and marginalized from society and were for many years hidden away.

It is incomprehensible to me that my daughter would not be considered a full member of society simply because she has extra genetic material which impacts her development.

I will fight tirelessly to ensure that she has the same entitlement as a community member that her typical peers receive. Although the perceptions around people with disabilities like Down syndrome have started to change, there is still much work to be done in many communities.

This past summer, I was looking for childcare for my daughter and stopped by a popular local day care. When I enquired about their policy for including children with special needs I was told unequivocally by the administrator that their day care was not licensed for special needs and was specifically not licensed for Down syndrome.

When I reflect on this incident what I was most disturbed about was this administrators’ ignorance, for no such licensing actually exists; day cares are licensed to care for all children, and it is up to them to foster an environment of inclusion and celebration of differences.

I was also disturbed by how quickly the administrator rejected my daughter outright on the basis of her disability, without stopping to determine if her special needs could be supported in a typical day care setting. We did go on to we find an exceptional dayhome provider through Community Links but this experience has opened my eyes to the resistance our family may face ensuring that our daughter has the same rights and respect as her non-disabled peers.

Although we have come a long way with including people with disabilities in the community, in schools and at work places, there is clearly still work to be done. The Man in Motion Tour reminds us that people with disabilities are valuable contributors to our towns, our communities, our schools, and our society.

Let’s continue to advocate for them to be fully included as members of society. If we do, perhaps next time that administrator is asked about including children with special needs, her response instead will be “Why don’t you tell me about your child and see if we can work together?”

Johanna Hirons, Airdrie


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