Several people have been talking about the news that for the first time since it was possible for a test to confirm a fetus has Down Syndrome that the number of families choosing to keep the baby has been increasing. I've been asked repeatedly if I was going to write about what this means. Join in the celebration as it were.
Well, I know I'm late to the party, but I wanted to think about it. I've heard some very hearty backslapping and congratulations ... all deserved ... for the work done by parent groups and various agencies whose tireless efforts have made a dint in the public prejudice and preconceptions which used to flourish (and still do) regarding Down Syndrome. I too offer my honest and sincere appreciation for their work and their dedication. I've had the honour of speaking to many Down Syndrome Associations and know of the deep love that these parents have shown their children, the deep passion these parents have for societal change.
I have worked with organizations that have struggled against community prejudice to offer community service and community living. I've been part of the process. Many reading this blog have fought the good fight and it's nice. Really nice. To regain some ground.
But, I remember, Tiffany. She was barely 6 years old when she became the first child with a disability to attend a school in her town. Her mother fought to close the segregated school and make mainstreaming a reality for her little girl. Mother was in tears that first morning her daughter went to school. She had gifted her daughter with something incredible.
But life wasn't easy for Tiffany. The teasing was at times unbearable. The tears of frustration from exclusion from parties and activities were real and painful. But that little girl got up every day and did the work placed in front of her.
She integrated her world.
She was Rosa Parks, Harvey Milk, Emmeline Pankhurst.
She dared to go where none had gone before. On six year old shoulders she carried the movement. She and only she could do it. She and only she could walk those hallways. She and only she had the power to change her world.
And she did.
And so did thousands upon thousands of people with disabilities. Those who dared reclaim schools, workplaces, churches, city streets, and local neighbourhoods ... reclaim them from the practice of exclusion. These hands, the hands of those with disabiities have pushed back the social frontier. These people, these devalued people, have endured, have survived and have ultimately conquered the space around them.
So, today, I'm thanking Tiffany. I've lost touch with her and her family. There never will be a statue built to celebrate the day Tiffany went to school. The day when prejudice met it's most valiant foe. That day that would lead to this day, where Down Syndrome belongs in hallways, not wastebaskets. That day that would lead to the birth of hope rather than the death of tragedy. No there won't be a statue.
This little tribute will have to do.
TIFFANY - 6 YEARS OLD WHEN SHE FIRST FOUGHT FOR FREEDOM.