Down Syndrome Awareness Month 2021

Celebrate Down Syndrome Awareness Month

10 amazing people with Down Syndrome who are breaking barriers

Established in the 1980s, Down Syndrome Awareness Month takes place every October. It’s a time to promote abilities and achievements while advocating for awareness and inclusion.

National and local events, such as Buddy Walks and Buddy Festivals, take place in states across the US to help celebrate and spark discussion, understanding and kindness. As NDSS Goodwill Ambassador, Chris Burke said, “It’s not about celebrating disabilities, it’s about celebrating abilities.”

In honor of the month, we’re doing just that – celebrating a few trail blazers and their achievements. Here are 10 amazing people with Down Syndrome that have broken down barriers, and whose work continues to advocate for people with disabilities:

Chris Burke

Chris Burke was the first actor with Down Syndrome in a network TV series. He starred as Corky in ABC’s ‘Life Goes On’. He has been nominated for two Golden Globes, and he has served as the Goodwill Ambassador for the National Down Syndrome Society since 1994.

Madeline Stuart

Madeline Stuart is widely regarded to be the first professional model with Down Syndrome. Originally from Australia, Stuart has graced the catwalks of New York Fashion Week, Paris Fashion Week and more. She started her own fashion label, 21 Reasons Why, and has been recognized in Australia and internationally for her advocacy work. 

Karen Gaffney

Karen Gaffney is the first person with Down Syndrome to complete a relay swim of the English Channel. She is also the first living person with Down Syndrome to receive and honorary doctorate degree. She received a Doctor of Humane Letters from the University of Portland in 2013 for her work in raising awareness for people who have Down Syndrome.

Pablo Pineda

Pablo Pineda is the first European with Down Syndrome to obtain a university degree. He completed a Diploma of Teaching and a Bachelor of Arts in Educational Psychology. Originally from Spain, Pablo is also a successful actor, author and university speaker. He continues to work in education and is currently developing an international plan to increase employment for people with disabilities.

Sujeet Desai

Sujeet Desai, who plays seven instruments, is the first musician with Down Syndrome to play at Carnegie Hall. He plays bb and bass clarinet, alto saxophone, violin, piano, trumpet and drums. He has performed in nearly all 50 states as well as 13 countries.

Paula Sage

Paula Sage is the first person with Down Syndrome to receive a BAFTA. Originally from Scotland, she received the award for best first-time performance. She took home a silver medal in the Special Olympics as a member of the British netball team and currently works as an ambassador for Down Syndrome Scotland and Mencap.

Angela Bachiller

Angela Bachiller is the first person with Down Syndrome to hold public office in Spain. She uses her political position to advocate for people with intellectual disabilities, working towards securing their equal rights. Her primary focus has been to change the laws that take away their rights to vote.

Isabella Springmuhl Tejada

Isabella Springmuhl Tejada is a fashion designer from Guatemala. She is the first designer with Down Syndrome to show a fashion collection at London Fashion Week. Her designs are influenced by Guatemalan folklore and she has worked with many indigenous Guatemalan artists.

Sandra Jensen

Sandra Jensen was the first person with Down Syndrome to receive a major transplant. In 1996, after a considerable fight to prove she was a suitable candidate, she underwent a heart and lung transplant. Her determination to prove her case shined a light on unfair hospital policies, leading to new regulations that prohibit a hospital or doctor from denying a transplant solely because of a patent’s physical or mental disability.

Chris Nikic

Chris Nikic became the first athlete with Down Syndrome to complete the Ironman triathlon. Chris finished the grueling sporting event in 2020, an accomplishment that earned him the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance and Best Athlete with a Disability in Men’s Sports at the 2021 ESPY Awards.