Every year, roughly 6,000 babies are born with Down syndrome in the U.S., or 1 in 691 babies. Down syndrome affects a person's development and certain physical characteristics, but as one father's Instagram project is showing, that doesn't mean it will hold anyone back from becoming the person they want to be.
Alan Lawrence is an art director, Web designer and freelance photographer based in Utah and has an 18-month-old son with Down syndrome. Using his artistic skills, Lawrence manipulated photographs to make them look as though his son, Wil, the youngest of five, is flying, in order to convey the sentiment Wil can do anything he puts his mind to.
It's a moving project that's making great strides to raise money and awareness for the genetic condition.
The idea came from Wil's unusual crawling style, which makes him look as though he's preparing for flight. "It's just an ongoing joke in the family that one day he is going to take off and fly," Lawrence told BuzzFeed.
Once the photos started to go viral, Lawrence realized the power they had to send a message to new parents of children with Down syndrome who might feel overwhelmed.
"I want other parents just starting out this journey ... to have a more positive outlook on it than I did," Lawrence said to BuzzFeed.
"This project is a way for us to show how much our son has blessed our family," Lawrence told Today. "He's not a burden, he hasn't limited us. He's opened the door to so many new things, to new experiences."
The Lawrence family started a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for a calendar based on the photos, half the profits of which would be donated to two charities that offer support for children and adults with Down syndrome. Since launching the Kickstarter on April 5, the campaign has already surpassed the $12,500 goal with the support of 285 backers — and still with 10 days left.
The success of this project appears to demonstrate a desire to reassess the way society treats and views disabilities.
A new perspective. The roughly 1 billion people in the world with disabilities face stigmatization on a daily basis, from strangers to their own family. Roughly 4 million people in the world have Down syndrome.
Lumping together everyone with a similar disorder can reinforce the dismissal of disabled persons. For example, according to the National Down Syndrome Society, there are three types of Down syndrome, which affect individuals to varying degrees. And as projects like Lawrence's show, such a condition should not define a person, no matter the degree.
Others have also used art as a powerful means to encourage normalization of illnesses and syndromes. In November 2013, Be Stigma-Free and National Alliance on Mental Illness joined forces to start a competition for schoolchildren to submit art that destigmatized mental health, entitled "Mental Illness: Through My Eyes."
Creative initiatives such as these can be deeply impactful in chipping away both conscious and unconscious biases. Lawrence's inspiring photos are a good reminder of the collective need to readjust the way people with disabilities are perceived and that limitations, of any nature, exist only in the mind.