United Nations World Down Syndrome Day Conference

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Dr. Jose Flores, Actor & Self - Advocate Chris Burke & Michelle Sie Whitten

Self Advocates Ryan & Kayla

Self - Advocate presenting at UN World Down Syndrome Day Conference

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UN Conference Participants

Self - Advocate presenting at UN World Down Syndrome Day Conference

Self - Advocates at the UN Conference

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Dr. Dennis McGuire, Dr. Brian Chicoine, & Linda Crnic Institute Executive Director Ed McCabe

Dianne Richler, President of Inclusion International & Michelle Sie Whitten


DENVER and NEW YORK – On March 21, 2012, the Global Down Syndrome Foundation and the Linda Crnic Institute for Down Syndrome spoke at the first United Nations’ Down Syndrome Conference. The conference will commemorate the UN’s resolution to recognize March 21st as the official “World Down Syndrome Day” in 191 countries. World renowned speakers from several countries including Brazil, the United Kingdom, Indonesia and Peru have been invited to speak.

Michelle Sie Whitten, executive director of the Global Down Syndrome Foundation, will kick-off the panel of speakers addressing “The Power of Media – A Guide to Working with the Media to Promote Inclusion.” Whitten’s foundation has been successful in attracting celebrities such as Quincy Jones, Jamie Foxx, John C. McGinley, Beverly Johnson and Jeff Probst to the Down syndrome cause while equally promoting self-advocate celebrities and Ambassadors such as DeOndra Dixon, Karen Gaffney, Sujeet Desai and Alex Sessions.

To watch Michelle Sie Whitten’s presentation at the United Nations Down Syndrome Conference, please click on the link below. Michelle’s presentation starts at 1hr and 50 minutes.

To see Michelle Sie Whitten’s presentation at the United Nations Down Syndrome Conference please click on the link below.For any questions please contact the Global Down Syndrome Foundation at info@globaldownsyndrome.org

The Global Down Syndrome Foundation and the Linda Crnic Institute for Down Syndrome are proud to stand with partners including UNICEF, Special Olympics and Down Syndrome International to commemorate the contributions and inherent value of people with Down syndrome at this first-of-its-kind event.

About World Down Syndrome Day

World Down Syndrome Day was established by Down Syndrome International in 2006 and has been observed in more than 60 countries worldwide to date. It is held on 21 March (3/21) to signify the uniqueness of the triplication (trisomy) of chromosome 21 which causes the genetic condition. The aim of the day is to raise awareness and understanding about Down syndrome, and to promote the inherent rights of persons with Down syndrome to enjoy full and dignified lives and be active and valuable participants in their communities and society.
A resolution to designate 3/21 as “World Down Syndrome Day”, to be observed every year beginning in 2012, was adopted by consensus by the United Nations General Assembly in December 2011. The resolution was proposed and promoted by Brazil, and co-sponsored by 78 UN Member States. From 2012 onwards, the date will be celebrated by all 192 UN countries.

Join our global voices by participating in our global virtual account of how people with Down syndrome have greatly impacted our lives. We encourage YOU to post you personal stories showcasing individuals with Down syndrome and their accomplishments. Below I have shared with you the tremendous accomplishments of self-advocates that have touched my life dearly.


DeOndra Dixon
When DeOndra Dixon was born in 1984 there were not many services or early intervention available for children with Down syndrome. But with the loving guidance of her mother and father, George and Annette Dixon, her big brother, her sister, and a grandmother with unwavering faith, DeOndra Dixon has created a well-balanced and meaningful life for herself beyond what many could have expected over 27 years ago.

DeOndra lives in Westlake, California and continues her education at Tierra Del Sol Foundation School. Every morning she is up with her father, Mr. George Dixon, getting on the bus for the long trek to school where she also has a job in the school cafeteria. DeOndra is very proud of her job and is excited to receive her paycheck every two weeks.

DeOndra has won several medals in the Special Olympic Games including in shot put, track and field, bowling and soccer. She is the recipient of a school-wide poetry award and the 2009 Quincy Jones Exceptional Advocacy Award.

In September of 2010, DeOndra made her first trip to Washington D.C. to advocate on behalf of people with Down syndrome and to call special attention to African Americans with Down syndrome. She met with many important representatives including Kareem Dale, Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement & Special Assistant to the President for Disability. And she presented Congressman Patrick Kennedy with the Quincy Jones Exceptional Advocacy Award.

In 2011, DeOndra became the Global Down Syndrome Foundation’s Ambassador and traveled to San Antonio to represent the Foundation at the National Down Syndrome Congress convention. DeOndra Dixon is the 2011 Ambassador and beautiful runway model.
Karen Gaffney
From the moment she was born, Karen Gaffney began an incredible journey that continues today. Karen is the President of a non-profit organization dedicated to championing the journey to full inclusion in families, schools, the workplace and the community for people with developmental disabilities. She is doing this by creating awareness and calling attention to the tremendous capabilities of people with disabilities.

Karen graduated from St. Mary’s Academy in Portland, Oregon and earned a two-year Associates of Science degree from Portland Community College. She successfully swam the English Channel as part of a six-person relay team. And two years ago, she accomplished her biggest swimming challenge yet – she swam 9-miles across Lake Tahoe in 59-degree water to show the world that people with Down Syndrome are more alike, rather than different, from everyone else.

Karen travels the country speaking to a wide range of audiences about overcoming limitations and about what can be accomplished with positive expectations. Karen tackles any challenge she faces with determination and commitment, knowing she has limits, but not allowing them to limit her drive to succeed. In 2010 Karen received the Global Down Syndrome Foundation’s Quincy Jones Exceptional Advocacy Award.
Sujeet Desai
Sujeet Desai is an accomplished musician born with Down syndrome. Sujeet has mastered seven instruments: Bb and Bass clarinet, Alto Saxophone, Violin, Piano, trumpet, and drums. In June 2001, he graduated from High School with honors and in May 2003, he graduated from the Berkshire Hills Music Academy in Massachusetts after a two-year residential post-secondary study in Music and Human Services.

After graduation, Sujeet worked as a teacher’s aide for an elementary school music department and continues to introduce music to audiences though his volunteer work. Currently, he performs in community churches, nursing homes, senior centers and hospitals bringing his art to those away from home and family.

Sujeet received such an overwhelming response from his musical performances that he decided to make music his career. Since March 2000, he has performed in over 40 states and 13 countries and is booked through 2012. Sujeet is a recipient of numerous National and International awards for his music and self-advocacy. Those awards include an Achievement Award on United Nations International Day of Disabled Persons, World Down Syndrome Day Award from Down Syndrome International, Thank You Award from Special Needs Families Developmental Center in Dubai, and the Global Down Syndrome Foundation’s Quincy Jones Exceptional Advocacy Award.

Sujeet, who lives independently, excels at a number of interests. He holds a 2nd degree Black Belt in martial arts (Tae Kwon Do), won gold & silver medals in the 1999 Special Olympics World Games in swimming and has received numerous other Special Olympics medals in skiing, cross-country running and bowling. He enjoys writing emails to his fans who visit his web site from all over the world.

Sujeet’s amazing story has been highlighted in two documentaries and many TV and newspaper interviews. He has been featured in the Wall Street Journal and Time Magazine, as well as on TV shows including The View, 20/20 and the Oprah Winfrey Show.

Sujeet has worked hard to become the finest musician he can be, while also working to overcome the limitations of his disability. Music has helped him bridge this gap. With his musical versatility, Sujeet is a role model who brings inspiration and hope to individuals with disabilities, their parents, and educators. Sujeet’s mission is to send a message across the world that, given the proper opportunities, individuals with disabilities can “Make it Happen!”
Alex Sessions
Alexander Gregory Sessions was born January 19, 1994 in Dallas, Texas. Alex was born with Down syndrome. His parents were very happy when he was born – his brother Bill was 4 and they always wanted two boys. They did not know much about Down syndrome, but soon started educating themselves to make sure they did all they could to help Alex reach his intellectual and physical potential.

It was not always easy for them to find resources. His mom became involved with the Down Syndrome Guild and his dad became involved in research and support for people with Down syndrome at a national level as a Member of Congress.

Like many young children with Down syndrome, Alex was diagnosed with Hirschsprung’s disease, which causes intestinal blockage. He was only 9 months old. It took 4 months for my intestines to heal and then needed another major operation. Although Alex have a large scar on my stomach, he healed and has a wonderful life.
Alex is a typical teenager. He loves hanging out with his big brother Bill and his friends. Alex plays sports a lot and excels at football, track, basketball and swimming. Alex has won Special Olympics medals in swimming, basketball and track.

Ever since Alex was little, he wanted to join the family tradition of being a Boy Scout and Eagle Scout just like his brother bill, dad and grandfather. After working very hard over six summers, in November of 2010 Alex received my Eagle Scout having earned 32 merit badges and completed a service project at White Rock Lake. Alex is a Brotherhood Member of the Order of the Arrow. Being an Eagle Scout has taught him never to give up, to work hard, and has allowed his friends and community to understand that we are more alike than different. It has taught Alex many life skills including the importance of helping others.

Alex also likes giving the prayer before each meal, so much that my parents call me the “Reverend Sessions!” He attends high school at the Notre Dame School of Dallas. When Alex finishes high school, he would like to become a public speaker, coach or a work in law enforcement. Alex would make a great policeman because he is good at helping people.

In 2011, Alex became the Global Down Syndrome Foundation’s Ambassador and was honored at the inaugural Be Beautiful Be Yourself Global Down Syndrome Foundation Gala in Washington DC.

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