The DSFN is a nonprofit organization based in Trinidad, founded in 2011. Its mission is to support loved ones and caregivers of individuals with Down syndrome through advocacy, education and research in order for those individuals to live as independently as possible and become valued members of their community and society.
March 21 marks the eighth anniversary of World Down Syndrome Day (WDSD) recognised by the international Down syndrome community and the second anniversary since it was sanctioned by the United Nations. The date (3/21) is significant, as it represents the three copies of chromosome 21 which is unique to persons with this syndrome.
In keeping with this year’s WDSD theme: “Right to Work”, the DSFN conference theme is “Inclusion is Everyone’s Right”, and as such, DSFN is honoured to have as its keynote speaker international Down syndrome self-advocate and open water swimmer, Karen Gaffney.
Also joining the conference as a guest speaker is Julie Harmon, a board member of the National Down Syndrome Congress (USA), and mother of two boys with the syndrome.
Gaffney, who was born with Down syndrome, completed a nine-mile swim across Lake Tahoe, swam in the Maui Channel, and was part of a relay team to cross the English Channel, says: “A victory for me was to swim a good race. I would have loved to have won a race at that level but I had already won just by being included with the others.”
The graduate of Portland Community College, Oregon, USA, having attained an Associate of Science degree is a Teacher’s Aide. She is the President of the Karen Gaffney Foundation (http://www.karengaffneyfoundation.com), an organisation dedicated to full inclusion for persons with disabilities in schools, families, the workplace and the community.
Harmon’s active advocacy for the awareness of Down syndrome started after her first son was born with this syndrome in 1992. She describes it as a life changing experience that led her to adopt a baby with Down syndrome and to advocate everyday for the rights, dreams, and inclusion of people with disabilities.
Harmon’s older son attends the University of Colorado, has two paid jobs, and volunteers at local nonprofit organisations while her younger son attends middle school and is included in the general education classroom and curriculum. The DSFN Conference will further highlight the importance of early intervention and education, proper medical care and community participation. In addition to the keynote speakers, the DSFN has invited other professionals in the fields of pediatric cardiology, physiotherapy and student support services to host the main sessions for adults. As is customary with all DSFN workshops, there will be learning play activities for children, and self advocate training for young adults. These workshops are aimed to effectively equip its members with the resources to speak for themselves in order to raise greater awareness of their abilities as persons with Down syndrome.
The DSFN invites all members of the national community to join them in recognising this day – March 21 – and to spread awareness and acceptance.