Suffolk County Legislator Sam Gonzalez (D-Brentwood) was joined with local and national officials this week, urging Suffolk County to adopt a bill he spearheaded that would make March 21 Down Syndrome Awareness Day.
“The idea behind this was something that has been in the works for some time now,” he said.
There are three phases to it — county, state and eventually federal.
“This day is acknowledged around the world and by the United Nations,” Gonzalez said. “I just couldn’t understand why it wasn’t something that was recognized here.”
During the press conference on May 18 outside the county offices in Hauppauge, elected officials from both parties supported their colleague who passionately has moved the bill forward. They proudly stood next to advocates with Down syndrome, like Brittany Schiavone, founder of Brittany’s Baskets of Hope, Daniel Fletcher of the Special Olympics World Games and John Cronin founder of John’s Crazy Socks.
“This resolution declaring March 21, as Down Syndrome Awareness Day is long overdue,” said Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport). “It’s been recognized all over the world to bring attention and to create a voice advocating for the rights, inclusion and the well-being of people with Down syndrome.”
Spencer added that Down syndrome occurs in one in 700 births. There are currently 400,000 people living in the United States with Down syndrome — half of those people with heart defects.
“Down Syndrome Awareness Day is to encourage more people to learn about this condition, to celebrate those living with it, and to recognize the ways in which medical advancements can boost their quality of life,” he said.
Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) felt a personal connection to the bill. She said her cousin grew up with Down syndrome.
“We have to get the word out,” she said. “We have folks who have Down syndrome that are superstars, that can do amazing, things that can inspire us.”
And by establishing a date that reminds people about this community only betters them in the future.
“What’s also important about having a day like the Down Syndrome Awareness Day is talking about the needs of our community members going forward,” said Legislator Rob Calarco (D-Patchogue). “Some of these young men and women, as they grow older, they’re going to be looking for housing services, they’re going to be looking for ways to get out on their own and establish their own lives. And we need to make sure that we have those underlying resources available to them. We won’t do that unless we are talking about what those needs are.”
Centereach resident and mom of two children with Down syndrome Karyn Degnan said this is long-overdue. A board member with Patchogue-based GiGi’s Playhouse, she said she’s been surrounded by a supportive group and a day like this will help even more.
“I am excited for my kids to be recognized and for awareness to be brought to their disability,” she said. “I just couldn’t be happier.”
Legislator Nick Caracappa (R-Selden) knew this was special, too.
“I don’t see inability,” he said. “When you have the ability to love, when you have the ability to appreciate, make something and give back to your communities. That’s not inability — that’s inspiring.”