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Kim Wilson has Down syndrome, but she did not let that stop her from strutting down the runway in a long black dress on Saturday in Columbus’ second annual “Proud to Be Me” fashion show.
The fashion show, hosted by Ohio State student organization Students Supporting People with Down Syndrome and the Down Syndrome Association of Central Ohio, was part of a day-long celebration of World Down Syndrome Day and featured 26 models with the condition.
“It’s important to show that people with Down syndrome can shine,” said Kari Jones, the president and CEO of DSACO. “If they’re given the opportunity, they have the personalities, energy and spirit to be not only a part of the community, but to shine in the community. To me, that is a big part of what you see in the fashion show.”
DSACO and SSPDS partner frequently to host events supporting people with Down syndrome and their families, such as formal dances for teenagers and volunteer babysitting for young children with Down syndrome. The fashion show, however, is one of their most recent endeavors, Jones said.
Kyla Beecham, a third-year in social work and the advocacy and events coordinator for SSPDS, came up with the idea for the fashion show two years ago as a way to both advocate for people with Down syndrome and to raise awareness for the condition.
The event aims to be as inclusive as possible, Beecham said, and anyone with Down syndrome can apply to be a model. This year, some of the models were so young they were just learning how to walk, while others were adults.
Beecham said she thinks the fashion show is an avenue to show people with Down syndrome that they can do anything or be anyone they want to be.
“People with disabilities aren’t represented in the media very often,” she said. “I think it’s really important that they know they have the option to do this, just like the models on TV.”
The fashion show also allowed families and relatives of people with Down syndrome to connect over shared experiences.
“The modeling and all that stuff is fun, but having the families see people cheering for their children, getting behind them, supporting them is really important,” Jones said. “We all are in this world together, and we get each other because most of us have a tie to Down syndrome in some capacity.”
Jones’ younger brother has Down syndrome, and she said because of him she has been involved with programs supporting people with developmental disabilities for most of her life.
As the president and CEO of DSACO, she said she is eager to collaborate with SSPDS to put on events such as the “Proud to Be Me” fashion show.
Events like these are so meaningful, Jones said, because they show support for families affected by Down syndrome, teach new parents of children with the condition all of the possibilities in their children’s futures, and show the public that people with Down syndrome are hardworking, loyal and engaged individuals.
For models like Wilson, the fashion show is an opportunity to celebrate and have fun.
“I like to have fun with my friends. I like to pose,” Wilson said. “I was born differently, but this is a safe place for me.”