This week, our Programme Director, Nathan Rowe, is at the United Nations Conference of State Parties in New York to speak up for people with Down syndrome.

Nathan presented a statement to the Civil Society Forum on the impact of conflict on people with Down syndrome and their families.

He shared examples from our network:

In Cameroon, a young man with Down syndrome was fatally shot by government forces during a raid on his village.  
Misunderstanding the situation, he ran towards the soldiers, who did not recognise that he was not a threat, and killed him. 

In Ukraine, since Russia’s invasion we have seen children with Down syndrome killed and many families lose their homes, with numerous families still displaced across Europe.  
People with Down syndrome and their families are traumatised from the events they have lived through, and many families have reported dramatic regressions in their children’s development.  
We heard a story of a 10-year old girl with Down syndrome who was denied healthcare, unless she and her family got Russian passports.

In Gaza, we have heard of children with Down syndrome malnourished and starving and others alone on the streets after their families have been killed.  
Our member in Gaza reports extreme hardships among the community and has lost contact with half of the families they support.  
Additionally, the destruction of their centres by the Israel Defence Forces has completely halted vital services like health care, early development interventions, and vocational programmes.

Nathan explained what needs to happen:

In all these examples, the impact on people with Down syndrome will be severe and long-lasting.  
This is a group that is already excluded, and these conflicts will only make this worse. 
Immediate support is needed to support people to access their basic needs and to access services.  
Then longer term, people with Down syndrome must be prioritised in post-conflict reconstruction efforts.

Nathan is joined by Michael Cox, a self-advocate with Down Syndrome Australia, who spoke about the rights of persons with disabilities to decent work and sustainable livelihood.

Michael talked about the current situation in Australia and shared his own experience:

A lot of people with intellectual disability do not work.  Those who do, are often in workshops or factories that only hire people with disability – known as segregated employment. They are often paid below the minimum wage. Not working alongside others in the community means we are excluded.  People with intellectual disability have the right to work on an equal basis with others in open employment.  

Michael also shared his own experience of employment:

I have always found it hard to look for jobs that I know I can do – we need more employers to see the value in offering people like me real jobs with proper wages in a supportive workplace. 

I worked for a very large international company with great inclusion policies. However, the reality was that I had very little support and the staff really did not understand why I was there. Companies say that they are inclusive, but they need to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.

Michael shared 3 things that need to change:

  1. People with disabilities should be paid a fair wage for their work, and welfare and systems should be redesigned to support this. 
  2. Employers need to understand and commit to inclusion, and they should be supported with information and training to support people with intellectual disabilities in the workplace.  
  3. Segregated employment providers should be supported to change so they instead build the skills of people to move to open employment.

Michael explained what is happening in Australia to improve the situation:

Australia’s recent Disability Royal Commission recommended a reform of disability employment supports, developing a roadmap to open employment and raising subminimum wages.

Organisations like ours are doing great work to support improvements, for example, Down Syndrome Australia has an Employment Connections project, Inclusion International and Down Syndrome International have developed an Inclusive Employment Toolkit and the Listen Include Respect guidelines can be used to support employers to be accessible.

Michael finished by stating that any work to reform inclusive employment should be done with self-advocates involved in the decision-making at every stage.

We want to work with people so that we can get to a world where people with intellectual disability have the same opportunities as everyone else in the workplace and in life.