Deputy First Minister John Swinney has officially opened the 13th World Down Syndrome Congress which is being held in Scotland for the first time in its history. The congress is taking place at the SEC in Glasgow between 25th-27th July and is being hosted by Down’s Syndrome Scotland on behalf of Down Syndrome International (DSi).
Now held every two years in venues across the world since the 1990s, the congress brings together a global community of people affected by Down’s syndrome, to meet, learn and share experiences. The previous event was held in Chennai in India in 2015.
During the opening ceremony, Mr Swinney addressed over 1000 delegates from across the world, followed by a procession where over 70 representatives with Down’s syndrome proudly carried their national flags into the SEC, piped in by Ross Inglis who also has learning disabilities.
Attending delegates include families and people with Down’s syndrome, as well as health care practitioners, education professionals and experts at the forefront of research in the care and development of people with the condition.
Focusing on four core pillars; Research, Lived Experience, Practice and Performance, the congress encourages delegates to learn and share experiences through a detailed programme of over 150 parallel sessions, Meet the Expert sessions, presentations, performances and an exhibition that take place over the course of three days.
This year, the Congress will host 12 plenary speakers working across the health and education sectors as well as the unique stories of parents, families and people with the condition. These include 36 year old Fiona Dawson who has Down’s syndrome and has represented the Scottish swim team at the Special Olympics since 2001; Elaine Scougal, who in 2013 gave birth to twins with Down’s syndrome and Andy Merriman, full-time author and television and radio scriptwriter, who is co-speaking with his daughter Sarah, who has Down’s syndrome.
As well as being a hub for learning and development, the Congress celebrates the creative achievements of people living with Down’s syndrome through the performance strand which includes dance, drama and music for delegates to enjoy.
The congress Lead Commissioners Andrew MacIntyre, Sam Ross and Stuart Campbell, all of whom have Down’s syndrome, played an integral part in winning the bid to host the congress in Glasgow. Sam and Stuart participated in a colourful handover ceremony which took place in Chennai, India in August 2015. Although unable to travel to India, Andrew also took part by the showing of his filmed interview of Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon and all three have been promoting famous Glaswegian landmarks as part of an extensive marketing campaign, 21 Reasons, to promote the congress and Scotland to the world!
Deputy First Minister, John Swinney, said:
“I am delighted to see this year’s congress taking place in Scotland, bringing with it the latest research and information about Down’s syndrome. We want everyone who has Down’s syndrome to have the opportunity to shape their own lives and for young people in particular to be able to deliver on their full potential. People with learning disabilities, their families and carers have a valuable voice in helping to improve the society they live in and this Congress offers a unique environment to share experiences and learning.”
Pandora Summerfield, CEO of Down’s Syndrome Scotland said:
“After five years of planning it is wonderful to see the 2018 Congress opening in Glasgow. Its arrival in this historic city is already having an impact, with over 300 staff from hotels, the SEC, taxi drivers and the Science Centre all receiving training on how to provide an excellent service to people with Down’s syndrome. These industries and Glasgow have truly welcomed the world Down’s syndrome community to Glasgow.”
Neil Brownlee, Head of Business Events, VisitScotland.
“The World Down Syndrome Congress brings together a global community of people involved with Down’s syndrome care and research. We are delighted to be able to support such an event in Scotland through the National Conference Bid Fund. Conferences truly have the power to change lives and societies, and already in Glasgow it is incredible to see the positive impact this event is having in educating people to greater awareness of how to best engage with people with Down’s syndrome and ensure they receive the warm welcome and care they deserve. Scotland is an open and inclusive destination, and the World Down Syndrome Congress enhances our ability as a country to extend that welcome even further.”
Down’s Syndrome Scotland are the only charity in Scotland focused solely on the needs of people with Down’s syndrome and their families. They provide information, support and services for people with Down’s syndrome, their families, carers and those with a professional interest. They also seek to improve awareness, knowledge and understanding within society.
DSi is a UK based international charity, comprising a membership of individuals and organisations from all over the world, committed to improving quality of life for people with Down syndrome worldwide and promoting their inherent right to be accepted and included as valued and equal members of their communities.