Delaney Skye Ott-Dahl (Credit: Delaney Skye Facebook Page)
When my daughters, 6 year-old Jules and 15 month-old Delaney were watching their favorite movie Frozen for what was probably the thirtieth time, I noticed that Jules became very sad and was sitting by herself on the couch instead of dancing and singing with her little sister.
I came into the living room and sat next to Jules and asked her, “What’s wrong?”
“Delaney can never be a princess,” she looked at me with tears welling up in her pretty blue eyes.
I reassured Jules, “Of course she can,” not really giving Jules assertion much thought.
But Jules wasn’t buying it, “No Mommy-O there are no princesses like Delaney.”
You see, Delaney has Down syndrome.
In all ugly honesty only a few years ago, I likely would have been appalled at the thought that Disney might have pivotal characters with Down syndrome in their animated features, especially those beloved by a younger audience.
I grew up in Anaheim, the hub of everything Disney and was a Disney kid. As a small child, I remember glancing at a television show my mom was watching and saw a person with Down syndrome in a documentary about the horrid conditions in mental institutions, but had never met a person with Down syndrome until I was in my early twenties. My experience was in an assisted living facility (much like the mental institution I saw on television) with people in corners banging their heads against the walls and sitting in urine soaked clothes.
People with Down syndrome scared me.
As an adult on the rare occasions when I did encounter a person with Down syndrome I chose to walk away for fear they might want to hug me or drool on me.
In short, I was despicable. It never dawned on me that I was being discriminating, never realizing how awful I was or that I would someday be given a chance to be a better human being, which is a tale better left said in my memoir, Delaney Skye.
It wasn’t until the eighties when the U.S. started to finally take notice and stop institutionalizing people with Down syndrome. And only today are there real efforts being made into Down syndrome research and finding the keys to unlocking their capabilities, which can be limitless.
The strides in Down syndrome research over the past decade have been monumental. Today, people with Down syndrome often live on their own, get married, are business owners, actors and activists. They are more likely to have a positive impact in this world than average children, of course I am bias.
Perhaps during the seventies when I was growing up had there been more characters familiarizing me with people of all abilities I would not have grown up with feelings of bigotry.
I was one of those kids who desperately needed those characters in a Disney film.
Jules made me think.
With weight of shame from my past behavior, I was already transformed into a passionate parent activist for my daughter Delaney Skye, my little over achiever. But when Jules at the young age of six recognized that her little sister was not included, she lit a fire in me.
Jules was right.
And I had to do something. I want Delaney to grow up feeling included in society and to have her own dreams and representation. I also realized what having that representation could mean beyond people like Delaney.
It is a sad fact that all people with disabilities young and old are the target of bullying. I realized Disney has the capability and opportunity to open the hearts of millions of children all over the world and provide the much needed familiarity which could eliminate discrimination against the disabled before it even begins. Disney can do this.
I knew my one voice would not be taken seriously but a 1,000 voices? Now that would be something. So, I started a petition on Care2.com, and within an hour we had the 1,000 signatures. Andrea (my partner) and I decided we should go for the gusto and make a goal of 10,000 signatures. We had 10,000 in less than a week. Thousands of people, many who are other parent activists are joining the petition, sharing it, blogging about it. They have taken a stand too and I adore them all. I was humbled and blown away!
Currently, we have three more weeks to go before we deliver the petition to Disney Studio’s and we have almost 50,000 signatures from all over the world, with many thanks to the Care2 crew.
Of course the “internet trolls” are coming out in droves. I expected that. Many news articles and blogs about the petition have been inundated with nasty comments. I have even been sent crude hand drawn pictures titled, “Here is your retarded princess” as well as photo shopped pictures of men with beards in princess costumes and nasty emails most of which make no sense. These fuel my fire for advocacy showing just why the world needs this, needs more positive exposure to people with disabilities.
Thankfully, the overwhelming majority of responses have been positive. We have received some of the most amazing stories about people with Down syndrome and words of encouragement that make our efforts worthwhile.