March 21 is World Down Syndrome Day. Why do we need a World Down Syndrome Day? People with Down Syndrome represent one of the most misunderstood people groups in the world. They are commonly stereotyped, labeled, and marginalized. Until a generation ago, they were routinely institutionalized. Today, pregnancies in which the child is identified as having Down Syndrome are most often terminated.
Down Syndrome is a condition in which a person has an extra chromosome in every cell of his or her body. This extra chromosome can present some pretty serious challenges, both physical and intellectual. A challenge, however, is just that. It is not a dead end. We know today that people with Down Syndrome have far more potential than they have been given credit for in the past.
This is where "people first" language can be helpful to us. People with Down Syndrome are, above all else, people, and they need and deserve to be treated as such. They are not, first and foremost, disabled, mentally challenged, or physically challenged. They are people. No single characteristic defines them, just as no single characteristic defines any one of us.
For those of us in the church, recognizing this simple fact should come as second nature. After all, we have this very interesting branch of theology called "theological anthropology," which tells us what human beings are. We are created beings of sacred worth. Whether we are able-bodied or disabled, highly intelligent or mentally challenged, rich or poor, male or female, straight or gay, Christian or non-Christian, we are beings of sacred worth. That should be the starting point for all Christian conversation around the different groups of people we encounter in our lives. In fact, starting the conversation here will make these various groupings seem quite less significant.
To learn more about World Down Syndrome Day, click here.