By Anneri Oosthuizen

Down syndrome is a condition in which a baby is born with an extra chromosome number 21. The extra chromosome is associated with delays in the child’s mental and physical development, as well as an increased risk for health problems. But for today, International Down Syndrome Day, we want to focus on inspirational stories of people with Down Syndrome who have achieved amazing things in their lifetime.  May each of the stories spark something in you, that no matter what you are facing you can make a difference or inspire others to do so.

1.     Chris Burke – Actor and folk singer

Chris is best known for his role in Life Goes On as Charles “Corky” Thatcher, one of the first characters with Down syndrome on network TV in the USA. As a child, his parents were told to place him in an institution. Instead, they decided to raise him at home and encourage his natural talents. He participated in talent shows and theatre productions through high school. Chris continued to develop his skills by going to night classes, writing scripts, reading about his favourite actors, and auditioning for various productions.

Chris has also appeared in various TV shows and movies, including ER, Touched by an Angel, and Jonathan: The Boy Nobody Wanted. He continues to advocate for the National Down Syndrome Society, and tours the US with his bandmates Joe and John DeMasi.

Read more on Chris Burke:

Wikipedia (2018) Chris Burke [Accessed: 26 Jul 2018] Available at:

2.     Jamie Brewer – Actress

Jamie acted in 4 seasons of American Horror Story (Murder House, Coven, Freak Show, and Cult). She was also the first woman with Down syndrome to walk the red carpet at New York Fashion Week 2015, wearing Carrie Hammer’s designs.

Jamie is also an active advocate in the Down syndrome community, involved with the National Down Syndrome Congress in the USA, the American Association of People with Disabilities, Civitan International and Down Syndrome in Arts & Media. While serving on The Arc Governmental Affairs Committee for the State of Texas, she spoke with senators at the Texas State Capitol to pass laws that would abolish the word ‘retarded’ from state legislation and better recognise the needs of persons with disabilities within the state. Texas now uses the term ‘Intellectual Development Disability’ in their legislation.

Read more on Jamie:

Wikipedia (2018) Jamie Brewer [Accessed: 26 Jul 2018] Available at:

3.     Pablo Pineda – writer, teacher, and consultant

Pablo is the first person with Down syndrome to obtain a major degree from a regular university in Spain, though his academic efforts didn’t stop there. After gaining his diploma in teaching, he obtained a BA in Educational Psychology while working at the Spanish municipality of Malaga. He went on to become a writer, teacher and consultant with Fundacion Adecco. He worked with the foundation on developing an integration programme for the inclusion of People With Disabilities.

Pablo also acted in the movie Yo tambien (“Me Too”) not for fame or fortune, but to empower people with Down syndrome and increase awareness in society. He considers his disability not as a disease, but ‘another personal characteristic’. For his performance, he received the Silver Shell Award in 2009. Pablo also wrote his first book, El Reto de Aprender (“The Challenge of Learning”) in 2013.

Read more about Pablo:

4.     Sarah Gordy – actress

Born to a British mother and American father, and raised in both the UK and US, Sarah later moved to East Sussex in the UK where she attended college and became further involved in acting. Her first professional acting job was as Jessica Bains in Peak Practice, and she went on to land many other roles. Her mother and acting coach Jane has said that ‘she doesn’t really act. She feels very emotional on set. She can’t fake emotion, so instead she believes everything about her character.’  In 2010, she was chosen for the role of Lady Pamela in BBC One’s new production of Upstairs Downstairs. Sarah is also a celebrity ambassador for Mencap, a charity that works with people with learning disabilities.

Read more on Sarah:

Wikipedia (2018) Sarah Gordy [Accessed: 26 Jul 2018] Available at:

5.     Lauren Potter – actress

Lauren is most famous for her portrayal of Becky Jackson in Glee. She has also appeared in Veep, Switched at Birth and the reality series Born This Way, and the short film Guest Room which tackles intimacy among couples where both partners are disabled.

Lauren attended dance and acting classes from a young age, before making her debut at 16 in the film Mr Blue Sky (2007). For her work in Glee, playing a cheerleader under the tutelage of Sue Sylvester, she was nominated for a SAG Award in the Ensemble in a Comedy Series category. She also received the SAG/AFTRA Harold Russell Award at the 2012 Media Access Awards. She continues to be an active advocate for the rights of the developmentally challenged, and previously served on former President Obama’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities.

Read more on Lauren:

Wikipedia (2018) Lauren Potter [Accessed: 26 Jul 2018] Available at:


6.     Judith Scott – sculptor

Judith Scott (1943-2005) is most well-known for her sculptures made from objects cocooned in various colours of cloth and yarn. Many of her works feature pairs, reflecting her experience as a twin. At the same time, her work was created separate from other influences and cultural input, due to her profound deafness and isolation. Her family placed her in an institution when she was seven years old. Thirty years later, her abled twin, Joyce, was able to arrange for her release. Both sisters moved to California where Judith’s interest in fibre and textiles emerged.

Judith’s sculptures can be found permanently exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Collection de l’Art Brut, Switzerland, The American Folk Art Museum, New York, and the Museum of Everything, London. She created over 200 sculptures in the last 18 years of her life, from the very small to the nearly immovable.

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7.     Madeline Stuart – model

Madeline is the first professional model with Down syndrome. She decided to become a model in 2014, after visiting a fashion show in Brisbane with her mother. Her modelling career began in earnest in 2015, after her mother’s online campaign to secure her a contract. She managed to gain two: one with fitness brand Manifesta, and the other with handbag brand everMaya. Madeline has since appeared in Vogue, Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan and Woman’s Day and modelled at international events like New York Fashion Week, the Sunshine Coast Fashion Festival, Mercedes Benz Fashion Week China, and Runway Dubai. She continues to advocate for inclusiveness and diversity in modelling.

Read more on Madeline: