CDSS’s new portrait project celebrates growing old with Down syndrome

Who: Canadian Down Syndrome Society, with photographer Hilary Gauld and Glossy for PR.

What: “Here I Am,” a series of portraits of adults and seniors with Down syndrome, intended to counter a common misconception about life expectancy for people with the disorder, and start new conversations about caregiving.

When & Where: The campaign launched March 17, just ahead of World Down Syndrome Day on March 21. Along with images from the digital gallery at the CDSS website, there’s paid and organic social and PR support.

Why: For several years now, CDSS has been doing groundbreaking work to challenge stereotypes about the developmental disorder. Last year, to dispel the notion that people with Down syndrome live less than full lives, CDSS commissioned a special photography project showing they enjoy romantic love just like everyone else.

This year, the CDSS is taking on another mistaken belief: that people with Down syndrome die young. While life expectancy was just 25 four decades ago, today that has more than doubled to 60. While breakthroughs in diagnostic and medical treatments capable of extending the lives for those with Down syndrome are worth celebrating, it also raises important new questions about caregiving.

How: This mistake about life expectancy is partly due to a lack of media representation of people with Down syndrome over 40. Improving that representation is an important step to change thinking about Down syndrome.

Gauld has been photographing Canadians with Down syndrome for almost a decade. “While statistics show that the average life expectancy has increased for people with Down syndrome, the visibility of seniors and elders remains limited,” she said.

Gauld, who also shot the portraits for the 2022 project, photographed 13 people age 44 to 75, with multiple shots posted alongside an image from the individual’s youth, their age and a short note about how they celebrate their birthday. “This photo essay raises awareness and challenges the stereotype that people with Down syndrome don’t live long lives,” said Laura LaChance, CDSS executive director.

Along with the gallery, there are social posts to help amplify the story of the older adults with Down syndrome and their families, as well as strategic SEO work to improve image searches.

And we quote: “Aging Canadians with Down syndrome and their caregivers should have comprehensive, unbiased information about aging issues, and have access to all of the government support that is available to them… No parent should be left asking ‘who will provide care for my child once I’m gone?’”— Laura LaChance, Executive Director, CDSS.

David Brown