John Franklin Stephens' Speech At The U.N. Aimed To Change How We Think About People With Down Syndrome

“I truly believe a world without people like me will be a poorer world, a colder world, a less happy world.”

Everyone deserves a chance to live their best life. That was John Franklin Stephens' message when he spoke at the United Nations on March 15. The American actor, who also goes by Frank, brought smiles and laughter to the U.N. when he delivered a heartfelt message.

"I am a man. See me as a human being, not a birth defect, not a syndrome," he said. "I don't need to be cured," he continued. "I need to be loved, valued, educated and, sometimes, helped."

Stephens, who has Down syndrome, then listed the help that is needed – things like providing training to parents, as well as medical care, eye exams and glasses. Eye disease is reported in over half of patients with Down syndrome, caused by the presence of all or part of a third copy of chromosome 21, according to the National Down Syndrome Society.

Stephens also requested that communities strive to be inclusive by welcoming children with Down syndrome to schools and classes attended by children without the disorder, and providing job training to young adults so that they can live and work more independently.

"Most of all, expect competence, not failure," he added.

Stephens zeroed in on his own life as a way to show firsthand what people with Down syndrome are capable of.

"If it sounds like I'm bragging … it's because I am," he said with a smile before going on to say, "I went to school with my neighbors. I was included in ordinary classes. The common kids and I learned from each other."

He boasted about going to the White House without having to "jump the fence either time."

Stephens mixed humor with the important messages of inclusiveness and acceptance for a population of people that account for every 1 out of 691 live births in the United States, according to National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.  

Stephens, who is a successful film and TV actor and writer, was proud to be an example of living a fulfilling life despite the obstacles individuals with Down syndrome face.

"A life with Down syndrome can be as full and exciting as any other," he said. "I truly believe a world without people like me will be a poorer world, a colder world, a less happy world."

For those who disagree, Stephens made three points, which included Down syndrome patients being a "gift to society" for medical research. 

"Second, we are an unusually powerful source of happiness," he said, citing a Harvard based study, which showed that the family and loved ones of people with Down syndrome are often happier than society at large.

Stephens' third point focused on genomic research, which, he said, will not stop at screening for Down syndrome. "Let us decide from this day forward to include, not exclude," Stephens proclaimed. "Educate, not isolate; and, celebrate, not terminate."

Listen to Stephens' full speech below.

Cover image via Shutterstock / Osugi.

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