Senate debates

Thursday, 19 March 2015


World Down Syndrome Day

7:56 pm

Photo of Claire MooreClaire Moore (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Women) Share this | | Hansard source

March 21 is the annual World Down Syndrome Day. Today in the Senate we passed a motion which was celebrated in the Senate that acknowledged that fact and also talked about the fact that we are in currently in the middle of the fourth World Down Syndrome Conference, which is held at the UN. This year's theme is My Opportunities, My Choices—Enjoying Full and Equal Rights and the Role of Families for the Down Syndrome Community. We also in that motion celebrated the work of Down Syndrome Australia and the number of Australians who are attending the conference because within the international movement, Down Syndrome Australia has a very proud place.

Today also in acknowledging the importance of World Down Syndrome Day, there was a function hosted by Down Syndrome Australia and also by Parliamentary Friends of Disabilities, which talked about the importance of Down Syndrome Day and had a prelaunch of the wonderful Down Syndrome Day advertisement—because we think with the time difference the official launch will be in the UN tomorrow so we are just pre-empting it a bit.

In line with the fact that we are talking about independence, we are having a campaign which is actually sponsored by CoorDown, the Coordinator of the National Associations of people with Down syndrome, which was created in 2003 and represents 74 Italian associations. CoorDown tomorrow will launch its new international campaign, which focuses on the notion of autonomous living for people with Down syndrome, including that very special feeling of independence of moving into your own home. We all know that this is a fairly common dream, though increasingly expensive, of most young couples.

This splendid advertisement that was co-produced with the help of Down Syndrome Australia, Down Madrid and the participation of Down Syndrome Development Trust UK, Movimento Down in Brazil, Saving Downs New Zealand, National Down Syndrome Society US and Japan Down Syndrome Society is the story of Salvatore and Katarina. These are two young people who are living with Down syndrome. Their story builds up into a wonderful synopsis which gathers you into the story about these two young people who are living together. Salvatore decides that he wishes to ask Caterina to be his wife.

There is a proposal at work, in a McDonald's. McDonald's is a wonderful employer of people with Down syndrome across the globe. But this YouTube, which we can all watch, actually shows an acapella vocal group, Neri per Caso, which is quite famous, accompanying Salvatore singing Come Away With Me by Norah Jones. He kneels and actually asks Caterina to marry him. We then see, after this particular process, shots of them living together in their own home, independent and strong and celebrating their life together.

This is the theme of World Down Syndrome Day this year, to acknowledge independence; to show that people with Down syndrome have the capacity, the knowledge and the ability to run their own lives. All they ask from the rest of the community is support, acknowledgement and respect. This wonderful program—and I do encourage people to look at the CoorDown YouTube channel and watch this project—is called The Special Proposal.

This follows on from what I have to admit is one of my favourites—the YouTube clip that was created last year in the same process by the wonderful company of Saatchi & Saatchi, who provide their expertise to CoorDown in this project. Mr Giuseppe Caiazza, the CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi Italy and France, says:

… CoorDown has perfectly understood that an innovative approach can make a real difference.

Last year's YouTube was a real killer! It talked about the special bond between a mum and her child. And I am going to read the text of last year's clip, which showed the experience of a mother finding out that her baby has been identified as having Down syndrome. The voice-over says:

I’m scared: what kind of life will my child have?

Then it moves on to a series of discussions with young people—young people who have Down syndrome. They are young boys and young men, and I will just read what they say:

Dear future mom, don’t be afraid.

Your child will be able to do many things.

He’ll be able to hug you.

He’ll be able to run towards you.

He’ll be able to speak and tell you he loves you.

He’ll be able to go to school, like everybody.

He’ll be able to learn to write. And he’ll be able to write to you, if someday he is far away. Because, indeed he’ll be able to travel too.

He’ll be able to help his father fix his bicycle.

He’ll be able to work and earn his money. And with that money he’ll be able to invite you out for dinner. Or rent an apartment and go living alone.

Sometimes it will be difficult. Very difficult. Almost impossible. But isn’t it like that for all mothers?

Dear future mom, your child can be happy. Just like I am. And you’ll be happy too.

It was the young people making the statements. Then at the end, the young people and their mums came together on screen and it said:

People with Down syndrome can live a happy life.

Together we can make it possible.

Dear Future Mom is also available on the internet, and I defy anyone to have a dry eye while watching that! Again, what it talks about is the independence and the ability of people with Down syndrome.

Today at the morning tea we had—again, people without dry eyes were all standing together and watching these two films, which engage with the community—we were talking with Angus Houston. He came along to speak about what is happening in Australia and to talk about what Down Syndrome Australia is prioritising. Naturally—it is no surprise—for the future, Down Syndrome Australia is prioritising education and employment equality. The core of breaking down that aspect of difference—where we would have no opportunity for open education processes—is a sense of low expectation, that there is somehow a lower expectation for people with Down syndrome, and that is just not right.

In his comments, Mr Houston said that the lower expectation barriers that people with Down syndrome face include the low-expectation environment that saw a couple abandon a twin in Thailand because the child had Down syndrome. It is the low-expectation environment which led to a recent Senate inquiry into the involuntary sterilisation of girls and women with disabilities. I was fortunate enough to be involved in that inquiry and, again, it was a feeling of low expectation for anyone with disabilities, so that young women were not given the right to make choices for themselves. But for their own good—and I stress that 'for their own good'—people outside them could determine whether they should be sterilised and not have choices.

It is this low expectation in our country that sees Australia ranked 21 out of 29 OECD countries in relation to employment participation rates for people with disability. And these numbers are even worse when we actually isolate the figures for people with intellectual disability.

We can listen to the voices of people with disability, particularly today to people in the Down syndrome community. They tell us, 'Don't be afraid, Mum.' They tell us that they want to have their own lives and their independence. And when you see Salvatore and Caterina, sitting together looking at their own home after that incredibly romantic experience,, you know that there is hope. You know that they do not have low expectations of their own lives and that they do not care whether other people have low expectations either, because they can do it. What they need from us—what they need from the wider community—is support and respect.

It is a wonderful thing that today our parliament has actually moved a motion to acknowledge World Down Syndrome Day. We have lessons to learn, but I think that as a result of opportunities, like watching Salvatore and Caterina and those wonderful young people and their mums, we have hope. We must have hope.