- October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month in the US, and the first week of November is Canadian Down Syndrome Week.
- The Waterloo Regional Down Syndrome Society, an organisation in Ontario, Canada, publishes an annual photo series to bring awareness to the Down syndrome community.
- This year’s photos are centered on the theme “More to Me,” which aims to dispel misconceptions about children and adults with Down syndrome.
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Tara Hart wishes more people understood that her 5-year-old daughter, Noelle, is just like every other child – and more than her Down syndrome.
“She’s perfect because of her Down syndrome, not in spite of it,” Hart told Insider.
Noelle is one of 51 individuals to be featured in a photo series called “More to Me,” which aims to shatter some common stereotypes of adults and children with Down syndrome. Hart is the co-chair of the Waterloo Regional Down Syndrome Society, an organisation in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, that publishes the annual photo series and calendar.
“Some of the biggest misconceptions are that individuals with Down syndrome can’t actively contribute to society, that their lives are somehow valued less, and that they’re happy all the time,” Hart said.
Behind the lens was Hilary Gauld-Camilleri, who’s captured photos for the campaign since it began five years ago.
Gauld-Camilleri told Insider that her goal with the theme “More to Me” was to capture the personalities of children and adults with Down syndrome, as well as to illuminate the experiences of their family members.
“The project is not only about the children, but also about the families and the intense love and commitment, as well as the challenges and the triumphs that they go through,” she said.
Keep reading to see a selection of the campaign’s stunning portraits.
The “More to Me” photo series features portraits of 51 children and adults with Down syndrome.
Over the course of just a few days, Gauld-Camilleri captured all of the portraits in the project. She let each subject choose their own outfit, as well as music to be played in the background of each photo shoot.
“We would ask who their favourite musical artist was, so behind every photo, there’s music playing,” she said.
One mission of the “More to Me” project is to dispel the myth that children and adults with Down syndrome are happy all the time, Hart explained.
“We hope that people will have an open mind and just get to know individuals with Down syndrome and see how they’re unique and special just like everyone else is unique and special,” Hart said.
“They are capable, they are intelligent, they have feelings, they have ideas, and they have thoughts.”
“We wanted to focus on the deeper aspects of life as well, not just focusing on happy smiles,” Hart said.
“The series really aims to showcase adults and children with Down Syndrome as having a range of emotions, a range of feelings, and a range of looks,” added Gauld-Camilleri.
Leading up to Canada’s Down Syndrome Awareness Week, new photos from the series are published daily, along with powerful quotes from family members or individuals.
“With the photo shoots, parents can get messages out, which I find extremely powerful,” said Gauld-Camilleri.
“Reading the quotes from parents and family members, it can make us better people. We can all be better human beings by understanding other human beings more.”
“People with Down syndrome are very capable and should be provided with opportunities to prove their abilities,” said the family of Bandagi, pictured here.
“I find it wonderful that now, in our communities, there are people with visible disabilities, not-visible disabilities, and of all shapes and sizes and diversity,” Gauld-Camilleri said. “As much as we think we are different, there are so many things that are common amongst all of us.”
“Though my language and communication skills may be different from yours, I can understand the things you tell me and the moments we share, just like any other person,” Caleb’s family said on behalf of their son, pictured here.
For Gauld-Camilleri, photographing Caleb held special meaning, as she’s close friends with his family.
“It was the first time in my life when I had someone that close to me with a child who has had Down syndrome. I remember how powerful the feelings were as his family went through that journey when he was born – there was a lot of love and courage,” she said.
“People with Down syndrome have the ability to make meaningful contributions to their communities,” said Emma’s family.
Hart said the project also aims to educate people about how individuals with Down syndrome are active participants in their communities.
“So many of our members volunteer regularly [and] are active participants in their community. They have jobs, they go to school, they have friends, and they have community connections,” Hart said.
“Some people said I would never learn to take the city bus. I prove them wrong every time I go to work. I love to take the bus!” said Colin, pictured here.
“Individuals with Down syndrome are not perpetual children. They grow up into adults who have their own dreams and desires and ideas,” Hart said. “We want to share those things with other people.”
Hart, whose daughter is featured in the organisation’s photo series, said she wants people to shift their focus from “the downside of Down syndrome” and celebrate each individual for who they are.
“Finding out that our daughter had Down syndrome changed things in some ways, but in most ways, she’s still just a regular little girl, and we treat her the same as all of our other children,” she said.
“We just hope that people would have a more open mind and realise that there is so much ability, and that as a family, we don’t see Down syndrome as a negative thing. It’s just a part of who [Noelle] is.”
The photo series also aims to show a side of individuals with Down syndrome that isn’t often portrayed in media and culture.
Gauld-Camilleri said she thinks year’s photo series is unique because of the emotions conveyed in each portrait.
“When we put together this year’s concept, we agreed that this just wasn’t a way that you typically see people with Down syndrome portrayed – with the canvas background, the dramatic lighting, and just a feeling that’s a bit more formal,” she said. “When you search for images online, there aren’t a lot of kids and adults with Down syndrome photographed in this way.
“With the project, we were able to put them in a light and let them shine in that.”
Gauld-Camilleri said being behind the lens of the photo series for five years has opened her eyes.
“I think we don’t realise sometimes that there are other people that don’t always get an opportunity to shine, or they have a harder time than we do in society,” she said.
“This project has taught me that change can happen, perceptions can shift, and what we are doing will help these [individuals] in our community and hopefully worldwide.”
“It’s been incredible for me to know that people are stopping and looking at these portraits and feeling something,” Gauld-Camilleri said.
She added that even with the growing publicity of “More to Me,” there’s still progress to be made in Down syndrome awareness.
“When I talked to the parents and children about stereotypes we were still looking to kind of dispel in the community, we acknowledged how far we’ve come and how much more people in the community we’ve embraced, but we still have a ways to go,” Gauld-Camilleri said.
- Read more:
- Benefit Cosmetics has hired its first brand ambassador with Down syndrome
- Lucas is the first Gerber baby with Down syndrome – and he’s melting the internet’s heart
- Shia LaBeouf says a costar with Down syndrome saved him after problems with alcohol resulted in his arrest
- This 22-year-old is the first Miss USA contestant with Down syndrome – and people can’t get enough of her
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