Many residents wore colourful socks on Tuesday in celebration of World Down Syndrome Day, which was themed “With Us, Not for Us.”

This year’s theme was designed to send the message that people with special needs deserve to be treated as individuals instead of being defined by their disabilities, according to Crystal Estridge, director of the government’s Disabilities Services Division.

“In the past, we might advocate on behalf of,” she said. “But what we’re looking to do is walk in tandem with. We are trying to walk alongside them with whatever their goals and needs are from their perspective and not only what we think is best.”

To that end, she suggested fostering more dialogue.

“So having those conversations with individuals who have various challenges and asking them what areas they think we can better serve them, instead of telling them that this is what they need to do,” she advised. “So we need to be with them and not dictate what their life should be.”

Three programmes

Ms. Estridge also noted that her division offers three separate programmes to assist people with special needs: an early intervention programme; the autism programme, which also serves people with different developmental disabilities; and adult services.

Most clients who use adult services, she said, have Down Syndrome.

“At our adult services, we try to help them to develop various cognitive skills where they might have deficits,” she said. “We also try to help them to build different vocational skills. Eventually, the hope is that they can be employed, because just because you have a disability does not mean that you are unable to be gainfully employed. It does not mean that you cannot be included in society.”

Down Syndrome

World Down Syndrome Day is observed every year on March 21.

The condition is caused by a chromosome abnormality, and the United Nations estimates that its incidence is between one in 1,000 to one in 1,100 live births worldwide.

Ms. Estridge said it is important to include people with the condition into society’s daily operations.

“We observe this day just so that the public could have knowledge about these individuals and so that they would be more accepting of these individuals,” the director said.

The Disabilities Services Division is a subsidiary of the Ministry of Health and Social Development.