It’s World Down Syndrome Day (WDSD), started initially by the United Nations. This significant day means the world will unite in recognition and awareness the only logical way it knows how: by donning colorful footwear. While getting creative with your choice of socks is a good way to celebrate pretty much anything, credit for this particular “Lots of Socks” initiative goes to entrepreneur and Long Island native John Cronin. Upon his graduation from high school in 2016, John, who has Down syndrome, founded John’s Crazy Socks with his father, Mark, inspired by John’s own lifelong affinity for wacky socks. Since then, they’ve sold hundreds of thousands of pairs of socks featuring wild and flashy designs to customers around the world, including luminaries like Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Not only do the Cronins donate a portion of their profits to causes like the Special Olympics and the National Down Syndrome Society, but their distinctive products serve as an ideally conspicuous method of raising awareness for WDSD. As you can see from our photo above, even the Bilingual Therapies team is getting in on the #LotsOfSocks action this year. They will be spreading the message of how people with Downs Syndrome play a vital role in their communities.
John Cronin embodies this year’s WDSD Call To Action: “What I Bring To My Community.” But he’s far from the only one. There are so many individuals living with Down syndrome who have accomplished incredible things, from actors to athletes to the first Gerber baby with Down’s Syndrome. That said, we would like to shine a spotlight on five individuals in particular who, like John, are are advocating for their right to be fully included in their communities.
A multi-talented renaissance man, Pablo became the first person with Down syndrome to ever graduate from college in Europe, earning a BA in educational psychology in 2004. Five years later, he received acclaim for his role in the film Yo Tambien, netting the Silver Shell award at the San Sebastian International Film Festival in his native Spain. But Pablo hasn’t rested on his laurels since. In addition to becoming an accomplished speaker, he has spent nearly ten years working as an ambassador and labor integration coach for the Adecco Foundation in Spain, spearheading the group’s initiatives to foster workplace inclusion around the world.
Politicians might get a bad rap these days, but there’s no more direct path to public service. Another Spaniard, Ángela has lived that democratic ideal since she was sworn in as a city councilor for the town of Valladolid in 2013, becoming the first person with Down syndrome to hold that office in the country’s history. Her accomplishment was not only a win for her, but for other individuals with disabilities in Spain, who often finds themselves losing their right to vote if a judge declares them “incapacitated.” Ángela has worked to restore these and other rights to people with disabilities.
Tim was a local legend in Albuquerque, New Mexico even before he became the United States’ first restauranteur with Down syndrome. Voted homecoming king at his mainstream high school while working host shifts at restaurants, his ultra-positive demeanor and penchant for doling out big hugs made him a popular man about town. After he graduated from Eastern New Mexico University, he opened his own restaurant, Tim’s Place, with his parents’ help. Thanks to Tim’s hands-on relationship with customers, it quickly became a hugely popular spot. Tim even got an invite to the White House, where he, naturally, hugged President Obama. Tim’s Place closed in 2015, but that has only allowed Tim to make an even broader impact on the national community as a well-traveled motivational speaker and through a nonprofit, Tim’s Big Heart Foundation, dedicated to encouraging entrepreneurship in people with disabilities.
Anyone who has so much as accidentally walked in front of a TV at some point in the last decade has seen Glee, so you probably already know Lauren for her recurring role on the show as Becky Jackson. With appearances on Law & Order: SVU, Veep and Drunk History also under her belt, along with a SAG award nomination for her work on Glee, Lauren has been an outspoken advocate for special needs individuals since her rise to fame. Most notably, in 2011, President Obama appointed her in an advisory role to the President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities. She has also served as an ambassador for the Special Olympics, as well as led campaigns against bullying and the “R-word.”
For most people, “multi-Special Olympics medalist” would be enough to hang one’s hat on. But Sujeet’s medals in swimming, alpine skiing, cross-country and bowling (not to mention his black belt in Tae Kwon Do) are mere footnotes in his list of accomplishments. Sujeet’s primary passion is music, and since he graduated from Berkshire Hills Music Academy in 2003, the skilled clarinetist/saxophonist/violinist/trumpeter/pianist/drummer (phew!) has traveled the world performing concerts and advocating for people with disabilities. He also works as an elementary school assistant music teacher in upstate New York, where he lives. His efforts have earned him extensive recognition, from an Achievement Award from the United Nations to perhaps the ultimate human achievement – an appearance on the Oprah Winfrey Show.
These incredible individuals, among others, contribute so much to our community. If there is anyone else you think we should highlight, please include them in the comments below!
Speech pathologists, occupational therapists, school psychologists, physical therapists, and other therapists and educators support folks with developmental disabilities including students with Down Syndrome. There are many schools and students in need of services from bilingual clinicians just like you – find our most recent part time, full time, and per diem opportunities here.