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Down Syndrome Awareness Month: 10 ROCKIN’ People with Down Syndrome

October 26, 2020 | In: Autism Resources , Why We Rock

During Down Syndrome Awareness Month, we celebrate the great accomplishments and contributions that those with Down syndrome make in our lives everyday. There’s nothing that people with Down syndrome can’t do and they have broken barriers and shattered stereotypes, time and time again. Here is a list of just some of the ROCKIN’ men and women with Down syndrome who are changing the world.

1) Sujeet Desai

Sujeet Desai is the first musician with Down syndrome to play at Carnegie Hall. He has mastered seven instruments: bb clarinet, bass clarinet, alto saxophone, violin, piano, trumpet, and drums; and performed in almost every state and in 13 countries. 

Desai won many awards, including the Achievement Award on United Nations International Day of Disabled Persons, the World Down Syndrome Day Award from Down Syndrome International, and the Thank You Award from Special Needs Families Developmental Center in Dubai. Due to his many accomplishments, he has received major media attention throughout the years, with two documentaries under his belt in addition to features on The View, 20/20, The Oprah Winfrey Show, The Wall Street Journal, and New York Times.

2) Madeline Stuart

Madeline Stuart is widely known as the first professional model with Down syndrome. She became the second person with Down syndrome to walk at New York Fashion Week in 2015 (after Jamie Brewer) and has been steadily invited to catwalks ever since. She participated in Paris Fashion Week, London Fashion Week, and various other shows around the world.  For her success, Stuart has been profiled in both Vogue and Forbes.

Off the runway, this Australian model also started her own fashion line, 21 Reasons Why, and has completed the Special Olympics triathlon three times.

3) Pablo Pineda

Pablo Pineda is an actor and educator, known for being the first European with Down syndrome to obtain a university degree. He completed both a Diploma in Teaching and a BA in Educational Psychology. In 2009, he won the Silver Shell Award at the San Sebastián International Film Festival for his role in Yo Tambien, a film about a university graduate with Down Syndrome. Pineda was also presented with the Shield of the City by his city’s local Mayor.

Although he still acts, Pineda is looking to build a career in education, currently working on implementing an international strategy to increase employment opportunities for people with disabilities. Pineda is a regular guest speaker at universities across the world, has written multiple books, and has a Ted Talk available to watch online.

4) Zach Gottsagen

Zack Gottsagen is an actor, who has starred in multiple films, with “The Peanut Butter Falcon” being his best-known film to date. This year, he made Academy Awards history by becoming the first person with Down’s Syndrome to present the Best Live Action Short Film with his co-star Shia LaBeouf. 

Gottsagen defied all odds as a child when experts said he would never walk or talk. With his mother’s support, he became the first child with Down syndrome to be mainstreamed in Palm Beach County. He always knew he wanted to be an actor and has been acting and teaching theater for years back home in Florida, where he’s also in a dance troupe.

5) Isabella Springmuhl Tejada

Tim Harris is an athlete who has won numerous gold medals at the Special Olympics. Harris competed in basketball, poly hockey, volleyball, golf, and track and field. He is also the only person with Down syndrome in the US to have owned his own restaurant. His restaurant was called Tim’s Place in Albuquerque, New Mexico, with a slogan, “breakfast, lunch, and hugs.” Though he chose to close it in 2016 to relocate to Denver, he continues to make an impact through his own non-profit, Tim’s Big Heart Foundation, where he aims to inspire people from around the world to lead meaningful lives.

6) Tim Harris

Zack Gottsagen is an actor, who has starred in multiple films, with “The Peanut Butter Falcon” being his best-known film to date. This year, he made Academy Awards history by becoming the first person with Down’s Syndrome to present the Best Live Action Short Film with his co-star Shia LaBeouf. 

Gottsagen defied all odds as a child when experts said he would never walk or talk. With his mother’s support, he became the first child with Down syndrome to be mainstreamed in Palm Beach County. He always knew he wanted to be an actor and has been acting and teaching theater for years back home in Florida, where he’s also in a dance troupe.

7) Jamie Brewer

Jamie Brewer is an award-winning actress, known for her recurring roles in the American Horror Story series. Since she starred on the show, Brewer has worked on a number of TV shows and films. In 2018, she became the first person with Down syndrome to win the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play. Brewer was also the first person with Down syndrome to walk in New York Fashion Week in 2015.

Off-camera, Jamie is a self-advocate who worked with The ARC to abolish the use of the r-word in Texas legislation and, instead, use “Intellectual Developmental Disability” in all official language.

8) Chelsea Werner

Chelsea Werner is a Special Olympics gymnast and a model. She was unable to walk until she was nearly 2 years old, and was told she would always have low muscle tone. However, she proved doctors wrong by going on to become a four-time US National Championships winner in gymnastics at the Special Olympics.

After her win, Chelsea decided to start modeling, and has since been on the cover of Teen Vogue and walked at New York Fashion Week.

9) Collette Divitto

Zack Gottsagen is an actor, who has starred in multiple films, with “The Peanut Butter Falcon” being his best-known film to date. This year, he made Academy Awards history by becoming the first person with Down’s Syndrome to present the Best Live Action Short Film with his co-star Shia LaBeouf. 

Gottsagen defied all odds as a child when experts said he would never walk or talk. With his mother’s support, he became the first child with Down syndrome to be mainstreamed in Palm Beach County. He always knew he wanted to be an actor and has been acting and teaching theater for years back home in Florida, where he’s also in a dance troupe.

Divitto and her business have appeared on CNN, MSNBC, CBS, Good Morning America, BBC, Inside Edition, and more. She even recently entered into a partnership with Lay’s Potato Chips, so be on the lookout for more tasty treats!

10) Chris Burke

Actor Chris Burke has appeared in many TV and film roles and even has a Golden Globe nomination under his belt. He is known for his role in the television series “Life Goes On” as Charles “Corky” Thatcher, which helped change the way people view those with disabilities.

He has worked at the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS) as an office assistant for over 20 years and has been their Goodwill Ambassador since 1994. In 2014, he appeared on Oprah’s “Where Are They Now?” and shared the now-famous quote, “It’s not about performing disabilities. It’s about performing abilities. That’s the message.”

Despite their disabilities, these individuals prove that differently-abled individuals can still lead extraordinary lives. In honor of Down Syndrome Awareness Month, we at We Rock the Spectrum Kid’s Gym celebrate all abilities and the message of inclusivity. To our We Rocker family, let’s work together to create an inclusive environment for We Rockers of ALL abilities whenever we can.