Down Syndrome Advocates Gain Ally in Palin
Much to the delight of the six-term congressman from East Dallas, Palin’s overnight transformation from first-term governor of Alaska to White House hopeful stands to bring new attention to his passion as an advocate for children with disabilities. Children like his youngest son, Alex.
One of two boys born to Sessions and his wife Nita, Alex was born with Down syndrome in 1994.
Similarly, Palin and her husband Todd are the proud parents of a son, Trig, who was born in April to pro-life parents fully aware that he had Down syndrome and would face a future different than those of his four older siblings.
“Alex has brought unimaginable blessings to my life and my family, expanding our capacity to love unconditionally, to learn within special challenges, and to build a brighter future for individuals with special needs,” told this blogger via e-mail when asked about the impact Palin might have in a position such as vice president of the United States. “Sarah and Todd Palin are warmly welcomed into the devoted, supportive community of parents with special needs children, and I look forward to joining forces with them to ensure that our sons and other individuals with Down syndrome can learn and grow to the best of their abilities through expanded social, educational, and employment opportunities.”
In addition to Sessions, Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) and Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) have children with Down syndrome.
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If Google Search results are any indication, Palin’s impact is evident already.
A Google Advanced News Search of the exact phrase, “Down syndrome,” during the 28-day period prior to McCain’s announcement of Palin as his running mate (Aug. 1-28), yielded nearly 6,800 results. An identical search of the period since the McCain announcement (Aug. 29-Sept. 9 at 12:30 p.m. Central), yielded more than 8,900 results.
Surprisingly, a Google Advanced Search of the word, “Palin,” and the exact phrase, “Down syndrome,” yielded more than a quarter-million results when I queried five days ago. Today, it yielded over one million!
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For foot soldiers in the Down syndrome community, the new-found spotlight affords them the opportunity to educate Americans and develop greater awareness about Down syndrome.
“The level of education, in general, about Down syndrome is quite low and the awareness is quite low,” said Sarah Schleider, spokesperson for the National Down Syndrome Society. “It’s been a time to educate the world.”
Babies with Down syndrome account for one out of every 734 births in this country, Schleider explained, adding that children born with the genetic disorder today have a life expectancy of 60 years and represent the first generation of individuals with Down syndrome who have a reasonable expectation of being able to outlive their parents.
Schleider also advised me that October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month and that NDSS is partnering with Regal Cinemas to launch a public service campaign in more than 6,000 theaters nationwide on Sept. 26.
Regardless of whether the McCain-Palin ticket wins the White House, one can safely assume that people who advocate on behalf of individuals with Down syndrome will experience something not uncommon in politics — an “October Surprise” — as a result of increased media attention. Hopefully, it will be a pleasant surprise that manifests itself in the form of additional gifts of support.
For more information about Down syndrome, click here.