Celebrating the 'Real Lives' of People With Down Syndrome MDSC Advocacy Specialist John Anton Makes Triumphant Return From Washington D.C.

BURLINGTON, Mass., March 22, 2013 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- On Saturday, March 23, two days after World Down Syndrome Awareness Day, the Massachusetts Down Syndrome Congress holds its 29th Annual Conference to celebrate the "Real Lives" of people with Down syndrome. At the Conference, held at the DCU in Worcester, Massachusetts, MDSC Advocacy Specialist John Anton will make a triumphant return to the Bay State. John, 47, will receive the organization's highest honor, the Allen C. Crocker Award of Excellence. John, a native of Haverhill, Mass. has been living out a lifelong dream for the past seven weeks, advocating for disability policy at the highest level of government in Washington, D.C.

The Annual Conference, dubbed the Real Lives Conference this year, is among the largest educational events on Down syndrome in the nation. It brings together more than 500 self-advocates, parents, grandparents, siblings, educators, and other professionals to learn from regional and national experts on a spectrum of topics related to Down syndrome. This year's theme is "Real Lives," is named in part for the "Real Lives Bill," a key piece of state legislation that would markedly improve the way services are financed and delivered for people with disabilities in Massachusetts.

Real Lives also refers to the fact that, every day, people with Down syndrome are living fruitful, rewarding, full, "real lives": singing and dancing, working hard and chilling out, playing sports and rooting for the home team, laughing and crying, and contributing to our world in so many ways.  The bill is sponsored by our great friend, Representative Tom Sannicandro. Also at the conference:

  • Self-advocate Rory S. Callaghan, 18, of Wellesley delivers the Keynote Address.
  • Maureen Blazejewski of Dedham is honored with the MDSC's Outstanding Educator Award
  • State Rep. Tom Sannincandro of Ashland, whose son has Down syndrome, receives the MDSC's Leadership Award.

Anton Paves the Way

In many respects, John's trip to the nation's capital paved the route for all advocates attending our conference. Last week, MDSC Executive Director Maureen Gallagher, members of our Legislative Advocacy Task Force and others from the MDSC family joined John in D.C. for the NDSS Buddy Walk on Washington, a two-day advocacy event that brings together hundreds of people from the Down syndrome community around the country to advance education, research, healthcare and employment opportunities. While there, MDSC delegates met with Senators Elizabeth Warren and Mo Cowan, Congressman Joseph Kennedy and each member of the Massachusetts Congressional delegation or their staff to advocate for, among other things, the ABLE Act, key federal legislation that expands the rights of people with disabilities.

John's trip to D.C. also served as a perfect lead-in to our "Real Lives Conference." Here in Massachusetts, John was a staunch advocate of one of the "Real Lives Bill." Now, John's incredible journey is emblematic of what "Real Life" with Down syndrome is all about. That's why we've asked him to blog for us about his "Real Life" in the nation's capital. The timing of the "Real Lives Conference" on March 23, in Worcester, MA, coincides with John's return from Washington, D.C. We will be feting John during the Awards Luncheon of the conference. John, who is also a member of the MDSC's Legislative Advocacy Task Force, was a fellow in the office of Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington (pictured with John above), a rising star in national politics. Now in her second term, McMorris Rodgers is Chair of the House Republican Conference and co-chair of the Congressional Down Syndrome Caucus. Her 5-year-old son, Cole, has Down syndrome.

During his time in D.C, the MDSC provided John with support as our first Allen C. Crocker Self-Advocate Intern. The internship was established after Dr. Crocker's passing in 2011 in honor of his steadfast commitment to advancing self-determination for individuals with Down syndrome. This opportunity is also possible because of the generous support of our national partner, the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS). John blogged about his experience on the MDSC website.

John, 47, is no stranger to the spotlight. Last year, his photo was featured in a four-page TIME Magazine spread about new advances in prenatal Down syndrome testing, and he was quoted in an accompanying TIME blog post. "I know I have very little limitations," John told TIME, which noted his wicked wit. "I am capable of making my own choices. No one never, ever plays smart with me because I can get smart right back." (He is pictured at left with Mass. Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo. Photo by TIME Magazine).  He was also featured in an episode by the news magazine show "Chronicle" about how the lives of people with Down syndrome have advanced in recent decades.

In Washington, John impressed upon federal legislators the need to pass the ABLE Act. "It's about our voice, our dreams, our futures, and to promote programs for people with disabilities and Down syndrome to increase awareness, " John said in an interview. "And after this, I could be running for office."

Members Get on Cover of 'Real Life' Magazine

It was a hit last year, so it's back again…  Our "Coverize Me" Photo Booth is returning. Conference attendees can get themselves on the cover of "Real Life Magazine." In line with our theme, we're asking members to come to the conference equipped with your favorite accessories that epitomize your" Real Life". Ballet or Karate Outfit? Work Uniform? Graduation Cap? Chef's Hat? Cowboy Boots? Anything at all. Our MDSC members have also submitted hundreds of photos that exemplify their loved one's lives - their inner style: personality, individuality, grit, and love. These photos will be on display throughout the conference.

About Down Syndrome

World Down Syndrome Awareness Day is celebrated annually on March 21. This date, 3/21, was chosen because Down syndrome occurs when a person has three (rather than two) copies of the 21st chromosome. One in every 691 babies is born with Down syndrome. Life expectancy for people with Down syndrome has increased dramatically in recent decades - from 25 in 1983 to more than 60 today. People with Down syndrome attend school, work; participate in decisions that affect them, and contribute to society in many ways.

About the MDSC

As we have over the past nearly three decades, the MDSC continues to ensure that all individuals in Massachusetts with Down syndrome are valued, included, and given every opportunity to pursue fulfilling lives. In the early years, parents met in a living room to share information about their children, provide support for each other and strategize how to educate their families, schools and communities. More than 28 years later, the MDSC has over 3,000 members, an energetic Board of Directors, a dynamic management team, and a vision to ensure that every person with Down syndrome has the opportunity to reach his or her full potential. Today, the MDSC is on the cutting edge of Down syndrome advocacy at a time when an innovative, forward-thinking vision is needed.

The MDSC offers a broad array of programs to serve people with Down syndrome and their families throughout the state, including: our signature Parent's First Call Program, a volunteer, state-wide group of trained parent mentors available 24/7 that is a national model; two major annual conferences that draw national and international experts in their fields; a Buddy Walk® Program that gives individuals, schools, community groups, and local businesses an opportunity to get involved in fundraising campaigns and events year-round; a Teacher Partnership Network that matches educators with experience teaching students with Down syndrome with teachers who have limited or no experience; Self-Advocate Programs like Advocates in Motion and our Self-Advocate Advisory Council, which provide opportunities for teens and adults with Down syndrome while making empowerment a central component.
20 Burlington Mall Road, Suite 261, Burlington, MA 01803 | P: 781-221-0024 | F: 781-221-0011 | www.mdsc.org

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