Celebrating World Down Syndrome Day While Seeking Justice for Individuals with Down Syndrome in Today’s Society

On March 21st, 2014, the world will celebrate the ninth annual World Down Syndrome Day. While people with Down syndrome have made significant strides in education, employment, and independence, there is so much more we can do as a society to ensure people with Down syndrome have the opportunity to enhance their quality of life, realize their life aspirations and become valued members of welcoming communities.

Ethan SaylorThe wrongful death of Ethan Saylor is just one example of the work left to do. Ethan, a 26-year old Frederick man who happened to have Down syndrome, died senselessly in the hands of three off-duty Frederick County Sheriff’s deputies in a movie theater in January 2013. Ethan’s death was tragic and avoidable. NDSS has advocated, alongside the Saylor family, for Governor Martin O’Malley of Maryland to ensure that law enforcement, first responders and other public officials all receive the very best training regarding interaction with people with disabilities and for the US Department of Justice (DOJ) to conduct an independent investigation into the death of Ethan Saylor. Emma Saylor started a change.org petition, which has gained over 370,000 signatures, calling for Governor O’Malley to investigate the death of her brother Ethan. In September 2013, Governor O’Malley issued an Executive Order establishing the Maryland Commission for Effective Community Inclusion of Individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. This is Maryland’s chance to lead the way for other states on these critical issues, and ensure Ethan’s legacy lives on forever.

Just a few weeks ago in Atlanta, Georgia, Judge Christopher McFadden overturned a jury’s guilty verdicts against William Jeffrey Dumas. Dumas was convicted of repeatedly raping a young woman with Down syndrome in October 2010. According to his ruling, McFadden claims that a new trial is necessary because she did not behave like a rape victim. Even as we celebrate World Down Syndrome Day, these moments of blatant discrimination deserve our attention. NDSS condemned the judge’s actions and through an op-ed response demanded that the state of Georgia Judicial Qualifications Commission begin proceedings to remove him from office. We can all get involved by supporting a change.org petition calling for McFadden’s removal; and that justice is done with the conviction being reinstated.

Last week in Plaquemine Parish, Louisiana, a mother of a baby, Lucas, who happened to have Down syndrome, was charged with his death after poisoning him—an action that deserves condemnation and for which justice must be sought.

While we can take pause today and celebrate the achievements of people with Down syndrome all around the world, we must be reminded that for us to fully achieve our mission of equality and inclusion, we must ensure that all people with Down syndrome and other disabilities are valued, respected members of their communities. The work and partnership of The Arc’s NCCJD and NDSS is vitally important to making sure people with Down syndrome and other disabilities have the right to a meaningful life in their communities, whether it’s through a career of their choosing, a living arrangement of their liking, recreational activities of their selecting, or just friendships of their electing. We, as the national advocate for people with Down syndrome, want to be sure what happen to Ethan Saylor and other tragic, unfortunate cases never happens again.

National Down Syndrome SocietyNDSS is proud to partner with The Arc’s National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability (NCCJD), a national clearinghouse on criminal justice and disability issues funded by Bureau of Justice Assistance, U.S. Department of Justice, that provides resources, information and referral, training, technical assistance and evaluation for criminal justice and disability professionals and programs. To that end, NDSS continues to be dedicated to issues that prevent harm, abuse, and victimization of individuals with Down syndrome. Unfortunately, we learn about these tragic, unfortunate, and senseless cases involving individuals with Down syndrome every day; and we seek to advocate on the behalf of these individuals and their families as they seek justice. To that end, NDSS continues to be dedicated to issues that prevent harm, abuse, and victimization of individuals with Down syndrome.