Advocacy group wants people with Down syndrome added to endangered species list

By News Staff

Should people with Down syndrome be listed alongside the red-belly toad, hooded vulture, and eastern gorilla as an endangered species?

The Canadian Down Syndrome Society (CDSS) thinks so, and it has launched a provocative campaign in hopes of raising awareness about the struggles people with Down syndrome are facing.

The non-profit organization is applying to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to have people with Down syndrome become the first humans added to its Red List of over 27,000 endangered species.

The headline-grabbing move is part of the CDSS’s Endangered Syndrome campaign that coincides with Canadian Down Syndrome Week from November 1-7.

The group argues that people with Down syndrome should share in the same funding and protections afforded to at-risk animal and plant species.

“In some countries like the U.S., there have been 30% fewer people born with Down syndrome than projected, and in a few countries, that number is approaching zero. Because of this, the Down syndrome community has less of a voice in the world today, resulting in a lack of housing, education and funding for a community that desperately needs support,” the CDSS said in a release.

Dorlean Leighfars-Rotolo’s daughter Jessica appears in the ads dressed as a lion.

She’s concerned that more people are terminating pregnancies when they find out their child has Down syndrome.

“I don’t think it’s positive at all because if people with Down syndrome are terminated, what’s next? What other group with disabilities are going to be then targeted. We are playing God and for me, I don’t think that’s right.”

If added to the list, the CDSS hopes it would be able to better “advocate for similar kinds of funding, protections, government intervention and public awareness that species on the Endangered List receive.”

The group plans to submit a letter of application to the IUCN and present it to the United Nations on World Down syndrome Day on March 21, 2019.

“You may not think about it, but the reality is that people with Down syndrome face far more challenges than most of us, and they need more support than they’re getting. Whether it’s underfunded support programs for education, higher rates of unemployment, extended waitlists for appropriate housing, or even just negative public perception and stigma, the challenges faced by people with Down syndrome aren’t decreasing — they’re increasing,” Laura LaChance, CDSS Board Chair, said in a release.

The Endangered Syndrome campaign also includes a series of videos and print ads comparing people with Down syndrome to different species facing extinction.

CDSS spokesperson Ben Tarr acknowledged that the campaign is controversial and there could be backlash, but he thinks it’s worth it.

“There’s always a a risk,” he said. “The reality is we have to be bold to get our message out there.”

According to the CDSS, 45,000 Canadians have Down syndrome. Learn more here.

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