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‘Every life matters regardless of the number of chromosomes we have’: Karen Gaffney

“I wonder what comes to mind when you think of our tomorrows, the tomorrows of people with Down syndrome. Some of you may be thinking, ‘Is there a tomorrow for people like us?’” begins Karen Gaffney, the president of the Karen Gaffney Foundation, which is dedicated to the inclusion of people with Down syndrome and other disabilities in the society.

In her TED talk, the 43-year-old says, “I am not here to make the case for Down syndrome, but to spread the idea that all lives matter.” About five decades before medical experts started studying Down syndrome, affected babies were institutionalised.

Over the years, families and grass-root organisations started to say ‘no’ to institution, thus beginning the process “to make life better for their children born with intellectual disabilities” through social inclusion, Gaffney remarks.

“We see more and more young people with Down syndrome all over their country graduating from their high schools. Some going on to higher education, learning employable job skills. Now, just so you know, it’s far from perfect. Breakthroughs haven’t come for everyone. We still have battles to fight for inclusion,” Gaffney says.

As conditions for children and people with intellectual disabilities improve, prenatal testing allows parents to terminate the pregnancy. Gaffney says: “The problem is, without timely and accurate information about our progress, if a test shows an extra chromosome, pregnancies are being terminated.”

“I believe Down syndrome is a life worth saying yes to, it is a life worth saving.”

She argues for people to learn more about the subject, focus on their interactions to create a more fair, just and inclusive society.

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