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Living with Down syndrome: Upbeat and uplifted achievers show their strengths


By Noreen Jazul

For many years, Down syndrome has been associated with the word ‘disability,’ but that has slowly changed as time passed.

Around the world, there have been persons with Down syndrome who have proven that what they have is not a disability, rather, a different set of capabilities.

Persons with Down syndrome, like anybody else, can be teachers, models, designers, actresses, athletes, and everything they want to be, and the following have proven this true.

Brina Kei Maxino (Special Olympics)

Brina Kei Maxino
(Special Olympics)

Brina Kei Maxino, Philippines

A public speaker, a teacher, an ambassador — Brina Kei Maxino is all of those.

In 2013, Maxino made history as the first Filipino to be named Global Youth Ambassador for the Special Olympics, representing the Asia Pacific Region. She was also appointed one of the 10 Sargent Shriver International Global Messengers for the Special Olympics for the years 2019 to 2023.

On top of her ambassador duties and speaking engagements around the world, Maxino, an AB History graduate, also teaches at a preschool in Parañaque.

In her Human Race Asia article titled “We matter, too,” Maxino said persons with intellectual disabilities “can do more and be more.”

“Every day, people with intellectual disabilities suffer rejection and ridicule because others think we are not ‘good enough.’ They are wrong. We can do more and be more if only the world gives us a fighting chance,” she wrote.

Madeline Stuart ( / MANILA BULLETIN

Madeline Stuart

Madeline Stuart, Australia

At the age of 23, Australian beauty Madeline Stuart has already walked the most famous fashion shows: New York Fashion Week, Paris Fashion Week, London Fashion Week, to name a few.

Aside from being a model, Stuart is also a clothing designer.

In 2017, Stuart launched her clothing brand called “21 Reasons Why,” which is a collection of “contemporary, edgy, ready-to-wear” clothes.

The brand name was inspired by Stuart’s “passion to find reasons to better ourselves, be more inclusive, healthier, and why we should celebrate life, whilst taking pride in her 21st chromosome.”

In order to further spread her message of inclusion, Stuart also established a dance school for people with disabilities in her hometown in Brisbane, Australia called “InsideOutside Ensemble Dance.”

Chelsea Werner ( / MANILA BULLETIN)

Chelsea Werner

Chelsea Werner, USA

Chelsea Werner defied the odds when she became a gymnast champion despite having “low muscle tone.”

Among her greatest feats as a gymnast were being named champion of the Special Olympics National Gymnastics champion four times, and winning the Down Syndrome International Championships twice.

Gymnastics isn’t the only field in which Werner has been thriving. Recently, Werner made a leap into the world of modeling, bringing her grace as a gymnast to catwalks.

Since venturing into modeling, Werner has appeared on the covers of Teen Vogue and Dazed. She has also appeared in a campaign for clothing brand H&M.

Sofía Jirau (Instagram)

Sofía Jirau

Sofía Jirau, Puerto Rico

What was once a dream became a reality for Latina model Sofía Jirau when she walked at the 2020 New York Fashion Week.

The 22-year-old model recently made headlines after walking for designer Marisa Santiago last Feb. 10.

Modeling wasn’t Jirau’s only dream. She also wanted to become a businesswoman, which she has also fulfilled.

The Puerto Rican beauty also has her own line of accessories and apparel called “Alavett,” which she describes as her “cry of joy to the world.”

Jaime Brewer (Instagram / The Wagon Movie / MANILA BULLETIN)

Jaime Brewer
(Instagram / The Wagon Movie / MANILA BULLETIN)

Jaime Brewer, USA

From television to theater to film, actress Jaime Brewer has conquered it all.

After appearing in multiple seasons of “American Horror Story,” Brewer acted in projects which were centered on tackling inclusivity and diversity such as “Kill Off” and “Turnover.”

Brewer also got the role of the main character “Amy” in the 2018 play “Amy and the Orphans,” which earned her a Theater World Award and a Drama Desk Award.

Aside from being an actress, Brewer is also a spokesperson. When she became part of the ARC Governmental Affairs Committee representing Texas, she fought for the “recognition of disabled people,” pushing for the improvement of their rights and the prohibition of the use of the word ‘retarded’ in “state legislation.”

Isabella Springmuhl Tejada ( / MANILA BULLETIN)

Isabella Springmuhl Tejada

Isabella Springmuhl Tejada, Guatemala

The year 2016 was huge for Guatemalan designer Isabella Springmuhl Tejada.

Tejada, then 19 years old, made history as the first designer with Down syndrome to showcase her works at the London Fashion Week.

The same year, she made the list of BBC’s 100 inspirational women of 2016.

Tejada’s clothing and accessory line, Down to Xjabelle, gained popularity for its “colorful signature designs, consisting of one-of-a-kind Guatemalan vintage textiles, combined with colorful floral embroidery,” according to BBC.

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