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Down Syndrome NSW
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Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Ruby's Rainbow: cute images meet serious intent and practical outcomes

In discussion about the purpose of 'awareness' campaigns, and the need to move beyond 'cute' images of people with Down syndrome, here is one excellent example of a campaign that does just that.

Ruby's Rainbow is an on-going fundraising campaign with a very specific and serious purpose - financially supporting young people with Down syndrome attending college programs in the US, through individual scholarships.

During this current Down Syndrome Awareness Month they are effectively leveraging a series of very cute, professional quality images of two little girls with Down syndrome, photographed in college settings. They are beautiful images of beautiful children - but they make the viewer think way beyond how cute they are. The captions are funny too, and that helps.

"Ruby, did you know that Nicolaus Copernicus was a Renaissance mathematician and astronomer who formulated a model of the universe that placed the Sun rather than the Earth at the center of the universe?"

Did you know that there are over 250 programs across the United States that have post-secondary educational opportunities for individuals with intellectual disabilities? These inclusive college programs focus on the whole student with academic, internship, independent living, and social skills components.

The programs vary in length from 2 to 4 years depending on their focus. Some offer a university residential setting, while others are non-residential based. Many of the programs also take place in a community college setting. While a few students with intellectual disabilities will pursue a Bachelors degree, most program participants receive a Certificate of Accomplishment. They do, however, gain so much more! They are gaining confidence, lifelong friendships, and heading down the path toward independence!

Image: Ruby's Rainbow, used with permission
So what might they lead us think about, that cute alone does not? Not very long ago, the very idea of people with Down syndrome attending college programs (and in the US that often means on-campus living), was either not thought about, or was readily dismissed as impossible, so it opens up a whole new range of options for life after school. The captions are as much about campus life outside the classroom and curriculum, as about academics - and that challenges stereotypes (and parental thinking) too.

While college programs are a welcome and exciting development, they are not yet universally available, but these images can also open up thinking about possibilities for those who either don't have the option of college, or choose not to go to college - their options may be broader too.

The campaign is effective because it is engaging, and because it has a single, well articulated purpose: normalising and promoting the experience of post-secondary education for people with Down syndrome. It realises the concept by raising money for scholarships, going way beyond talking about a good idea, resulting in a tangible outcome impacting the lives of individuals with Down syndrome. It is relevant to both those of us 'in the know', and to the broader community.

There's a lot of 'bang' in Ruby's Rainbow's buck. And cuteness too, in just the right dose.
Earlier posts about post-school programs.

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