Words and Ideas: Internet brings out worst in society

Abbie Stuart

Madeline Stuart made history when she became the first person with Down syndrome to model on the catwalk during New York Fashion Week.

Katie Meade, another model with Down syndrome, has joined Stuart in making history by becoming the first person with Down syndrome to be the face of a campaign. Hair care company Beauty & Pinups recently named Meade as the face of its new “Fearless” campaign.

The achievements of these women make me happy. People with special needs are capable of doing much more than we realize, and seeing stories like these give me hope that perhaps our society is moving toward a place where it will not be uncommon for people with special needs to be in professions such as modeling.

However, a quick peek into the comments section below the article quickly destroyed that hope:

“Okay, political correctness continues to amaze”

“She doesn’t look that Down-y”

“Everybody gets a trophy!”

And those are the nicer ones.

I am grateful for the people who responded positively to the article, but they were far outnumbered by people who responded negatively. To make it worse, the majority of those who responded negatively commented with things that I am uncomfortable with retyping and, quite frankly, made me angry that such ignorance and hatred still exists in the 21st century.

Signing a model with Down syndrome is not political correctness; it’s progress. True, people with Down syndrome may share similar physical characteristics, but people with Down syndrome do not have a certain “look,” just like people who are blonde do not have a certain “look.” And, no, not “everybody gets a trophy” because there are hundreds of people with special needs who do not have the same opportunity that Stuart or Meade have earned.

The reason why someone may ask you to use “people first language” when referring to people with special needs is because it subtly emphasizes how people with special needs are people first and people with a specific diagnosis second. This is how we should view people with special needs in general. While people with special needs may have different needs than you or me, they should not be limited because of those needs, especially not by the opinions of people like those who commented negatively on the article about Meade.

I look forward to the day when it’s not news that a person with special needs is participating in activities that they typically have not before. But until the attitudes of people like those who commented negatively on the article cease to exist, I fear that day is still far too long off.