Tuesday, 12 March 2019

People with Down Syndrome Changing the World by Mel Darbon

People With Down Syndrome Changing the World by Mel Darbon

I realised as I sat down today to think about this next blog that it was exactly six months to the day that my debut book Rosie Loves Jack was published. It tells the story of a teenage girl with Down syndrome who fights for the freedoms that we often take for granted.

I have been inspired by many young people I have worked with who have Down syndrome, but in the writing of this book I came across some young celebrities who are determined to break down the stereotypes about their genetic condition. At this juncture I thought it would be lovely to share their achievements.

Tommy Jessop.

Tommy Jessop is a British actor, who its determined not to let his Down syndrome prevent him from achieveing great success. His career spans theatre, television, film and radio and has lead to him being nominated for  many different awards.

I first heard about Tommy when I watched a documentary called Growing Up Down's, a documentary
made by his brother William Jessop that follows the Blue Apple Theatre Company's  touring production of Hamlet, in which Tommy played the starring role of Hamlet. It won the Creative Diversity network Award for Most Groundbreaking Programme. Tommy made history, as the first professional actor with Down syndrome to play Hamlet in a mainstream theatre tour.

Tommy broke into drama playing one of the leads in Mark Haddon's BBC Drama, Coming Down the Mountain. Tommy was the first actor with Down syndrome to play a lead role in a television production. Mark Haddon was inspired by Tommy to write the drama, which was nominated for 'Best Single Drama' for a television Bafta.  

Many productions followed on from this and Tommy was lucky enough to work with Mark Rylance at The Globe Theatre and gained a big fan in Mark who described Tommy's performance in Hamlet as 'phenomenal'.

Not content with taking the drama world by storm, Tommy now works for the Culture Device Dance Project in London, proving that having a genetic condition doesn't have to hold you back. His abilities far out-weigh any disability he might have.

Isabella Springmühl.


Isabella Springmühl is a nineteen-year-old fashion designer from Guatemala. She is the first designer with Down syndrome to be featured at London Fashion Week and is the most recognised designer in her country of Guatemala  and has showcased her work in Rome and Mexico, as well. 

Isabella always wanted to be a fashion designer and from the age of six used to make clothes for her dolls. So, it was a natural progression to want to study fashion design at university when she graduated from school. But the university refused to take her because of her condition and it looked like Isabella's dreams of following in her grandmother's footsteps were to be dashed before she'd even begun. Determined not to let this stop her, Isabella applied to other universities - all who turned her down because she had Down syndrome.

Isabella was not going to let this get in the way of her dream. She decided to teach herself, and with the help of her family created her own company called, Down to Xjabelle, which does a range of clothes especially designed to fit the body shape of someone with Down syndrome, as well as clothes for  all women. Her designs reflect her Guatemalan heritage and use colourful textiles woven by indigenous Mayan women.  Her latest venture has been to set up her online shop.

Isabella is a truly inspiring person who strongly advocates her message of inclusivity to her ever-growing audience. Last year the BBC named her as one of their 100 Influential Women.

"I wish that every garment I so lovingly work on warms the dreams of other youngsters who have different abilities...we can do it!"

Pablo Pineda.

Pablo Pineda is the first person in Europe with Down syndrome to complete a university degree in 2004. He now works as a teacher, a role he took on in 2009 but still fights to be accepted as.

" The families are still scared of it, that people with Down syndrome become teachers, or that they are partners of their daughters...I am tired of it, being the perpetual student, the child forever. Now my time has come to teach."

At one point Pablo became an actor in a film about his life called, "Me Too",  but his sole purpose in doing this was to, "empower other people with Down syndrome. And naturally to change awareness in society in regards to people with Down syndrome. To offer a different perspective on us."  

Pablo is determined to help society see the world through new eyes and passionately advocates that people with Down syndrome can achieve anything that they want to if they are given the opportunities.

""My message to the parents, teachers, society is: Here is a person and he can learn. Not every person with Down syndrome can study, but he can learn. And the individual limits in this regard should not be set by society but by the person themselves. I got to where I am today because I wanted to get there."

Madeline Stuart.

Madeline Stuart is an Australian  fashion model who became the second model in the world with Down syndrome, and one of very few Australian models, to work at new York Fashion Week. This opened up huge debate about disability inclusion in the modelling industry. Diversity is hugely lacking in the fashion industry as a whole, so Madeline has become an inspiration to not only disabled people but anyone who dares to dream.

Alongside her achievements as a model Madeline has set up a dance school (dance being another passion of hers) with her mother and a friend. The idea of the school is to nurture talent within a non-competitive environment.

Most importantly Madeline's success and fame -she has over 127,000 followers on Instagram, has made her a role-model to so many people because of her refusal to put any limitations on what she can achieve. She has shown people how to believe in themselves and proved that disability doesn't prevent you dreaming.

"I hope through modelling I can change society's view of people with disabilities, exposure is creating awareness, acceptance and inclusion."

Sarah Gordy.

     Sarah Gordy is a British actress who has been in many television and theatre productions; Upstairs Downstairs, Call theMidwife, Holby City, Doctors, Strike, Jelly Fish at The Bush Theatre.  She spoke at the UN for World Down syndrome Day and has also been awarded an Honorary Degree from Nottingham University. 

"Hopefully it will inspire other young people to believe in themselves too... We worked hard to get here. It means much more than a degree in our hand, and a cap and a gown. Each of us has had a different journey to get here. And...We...Are...Here."

 Perhaps her greatest achievement to date is when she was awarded the MBE for services to the arts and people with disabilities.

This was a very significant achievement because Sarah was the first woman with Down syndrome to be awarded an MBE. " Can you imagine?...It meant a lot to us because it's for services to the arts and  people with disabilities, and it's such an inspiration for the little ones coming up."

Sarah strongly advocates that, "It's not about the disabilities but the person behind it as well, and the same with Down syndrome."

 I am humbled by what these young people have achieved against all the odds stacked against them. They not only are a huge inspiration to those with a disability, but to everyone else as well. It's not about the disabilities but the people behind them and each and everyone of them deserve to be heard.

Mel Darbon



Joan Lennon said...

This is inspiring - thanks for posting, Mel.

sara gethin said...

What a wonderful post, Mel - truly inspiring.

Anne Booth said...

What a wonderful post. Thank you. I will share widely.

Penny Dolan said...

What inspiring young people, Mel! Thanks.