Our local self-advocates proved how important advocacy is at our 15th Annual Miami Valley Down Syndrome Association (MVDSA) Buddy Walk.
Nothing About Us, Without Us!
Often good-intentioned parents and loved ones create fundraising events like the Buddy Walk to spread awareness about Down syndrome, but don’t include actual people with Down syndrome in leadership or advocacy roles. This mind set has got to change
Down Syndrome Affiliates in Actions gave me the idea of having our local self-advocates lead the Buddy Walk with a advocacy table. This idea started six months ago with a Self-Advocate Communications Workshop that you can read about here and here. At the workshop, teens and adults with Down syndrome learned the skills they need to become self-advocates and lead our Buddy Walk.
Our mantra is “I Can!” and our local self-advocates proved they can stand up for themselves and speak out about issues that are important to them. I’m so proud of them all: Anna, Walter, Sarah, Joe, Megan, Adam, Olivia, Bill, Pete, and Sally. After my own son, Troy, they all are the reason I have become such an impassioned advocate. They will always hold a special place in my heart!
These amazing self-advocates were the first faces hundreds of Buddy Walkers saw as they entered Fifth-Third Stadium. Capable, independent, proud! Imagine how powerful this is for a new parent who’s attending the Buddy Walk for the first time. They’re still scared; not sure what to expect. May be they’ve never met a person with Down syndrome. It’s so important that the leaders of the Buddy Walk, or any awareness campaign, be the very people we are trying to support. It’s imperative that they are seen for who they are: More alike, than different!
Each self-advocate had a special role at the Buddy Walk. I want to give a huge shout out to Walter May, who braved the masses and gave a rousing speech that had the whole Dragon’s Baseball stadium cheering! How inspiring to see an adult with Down syndrome, who’s proud of who he is, tell others about his experiences and what he values.
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Anna, Olivia, and Joe escorted our VIP guests including Andrea Harker from Montgomery County Developmental Disabilities Services, Tamara Hawes from U.S. Representative Mike Turner’s office, and Ohio State Representative Niraj Antani. These three self-advocates had to get out of their comfort zone and talk to a lot of strangers. But after months of practice they nailed it.
Representative Niraj Antani also spoke about the newly introduced Ohio House Bill 332 that will ensure all people with disabilities can receive life-saving organ transplants like everyone else. I’ve been working with Rep. Antani all summer to introduce the bill, so it was so exciting to see our hard work coming to fruition. The bill would end discrimination on organ transplant waitlists. You can read a personal story of discrimination here in Ohio right here.
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Of course, we were able to fit in some fun amongst all the seriousness of advocacy. In fact, it was said by our Executive Director, Willie Cox, that our Advocacy Table was the most popular place to be. We had a party atmosphere! Playing Plinko, giving out Down syndrome bling, and spreading love.
I’m used to spending the entire Buddy Walk with my family, but they seemed to have a rockin’ time without me. My typical son, Hunter, absolutely LOVES the Buddy Walk. He talks about it all year long. Troy, on the other hand, can take it or leave it.