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Something to Shout about: The Stars with Down Syndrome
It can sometimes be challenging for people with a disability to get a job, let alone achieve their dreams and ambitions. Unfortunately, a lack of knowledge about people with learning disabilities means many UK employers have inaccurate and outdated views on the skills they can bring to the workplace. Less than 20% of people with a learning disability are in employment, meaning many of the 40,000 people in the UK with Down Syndrome are finding it almost impossible to find work. Despite the fact 65% of them desperately want a job, or work experience, it’s an uphill struggle. The charity Mencap says there’s a “general ignorance” in society about people with learning difficulties, leading to the employers’ inaccurate views. An employer often projects a “stereotypical view” onto someone who is different when it comes to a person with Down Syndrome. New generation of stars Despite people with a learning disability traditionally facing challenges when it comes to working, some people with Down Syndrome are bucking the trend by winning jobs from models to actors. The stars with Down Syndrome are urging society to be more open and accepting towards those with disabilities, who make a valuable contribution not only to the workplace, but to society as a whole. Some major companies are already making changes to enable people with a disability to have the opportunities they deserve. For example, Netflix has partnered with the BBC on a five-year programme to enable more disabled people to find jobs in the film and TV industry, whether in front of, or behind, the camera. The stars with Down Syndrome currently lighting up our screens are inspiring other people with disabilities to believe they can do the same. A new generation of performers is breaking through as actors and models, leading a revolution in diversity and banishing the old stereotypes to the past. Zack Gottsagen Zack Gottsagen starred in the 2019 movie, The Peanut Butter Falcon, opposite Dakota Johnson and Shia LaBeouf. The American actor, now 36, had attended a theatre camp at Zeno Mountain Farm in Vermont, for disabled and non-disabled people. He met filmmakers Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz at the camp. Gottsagen suggested they wrote a feature-length comedy-drama for him, as there was an absence of leading roles in Hollywood for actors with Down Syndrome. They liked the idea and wrote the story of Zak, a young man with Down Syndrome, who escaped from a state-run care home and trained as a professional wrestler. While training, Zak meets a drifter called Tyler and they become friends. They are pursued by Eleanor, one of the nursing home staff, who is supposed to return Zak to care, but she ends up joining them on the run. The film was a hit and grossed £17.6 million at the box office. The Peanut Butter Falcon has left a legacy in inspiring a growing number of films and series featuring people with Down Syndrome. In 2019, the Associated Press recognised Gottsagen as a Breakthrough Entertainer. In 2020, he became the first person with Down Syndrome to present an Academy Award. Way to go, Zack! Daniel Laurie Actor Daniel Laurie, 26, from Kensington, London, has been starring in the drama series, Call the Midwife, since 2017. The show focuses on a group of nurse-midwives in London’s East End in the 1950s and ’60s. Laurie plays Reggie Jackson, a young man with Down Syndrome who is sent to live with his cousin, Fred, after his mother passes away. Thanks to his mother’s forward-thinking beliefs, Reggie’s daily routine had been based on schedules that permitted him to function on his own for periods of time. He later moved into the Glasshouse Trust community, where he lived and worked as a gardener with other young adults with disabilities. Laurie is no stranger to show business, as his father was the late Leslie Grantham, famous for playing “Dirty Den” in the BBC soap EastEnders when it was first launched in the 1980s. Kassie Mundhenk Teenage actress Kassie Mundhenk plays the role of Moira Ross in the HBO Max drama series, Mare of Easttown, starring Kate Winslet. As a child, Mundhenk took part in traditional American pageants. She began acting at 14 and her youthful face has enabled her to play characters younger than herself. The American star, born in 2003, was always supported by her parents in her goal of becoming an actress. Based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, she has worked on numerous television dramas and films. She has also made a commercial for NYU Children’s Hospital, a lifestyle shoot to promote New York City and two campaigns for the Justice clothing line. In Mare of Easttown, Mundhenk starred as Moira, the daughter of Lori and John Ross, the close friends of Winslet’s character, Marianne “Mare” Sheehan. She beat more than 50 other girls when she successfully auditioned for the role and was singled out for praise by Winslet herself. Ellie Goldstein Model Ellie Goldstein was born in Ilford, Essex, in 2003. She began modelling at the age of 15. She is also a student of performing arts and has worked on campaigns for Gucci, Vodafone, Nike and Superdrug. Signed with Zebedee Management, she loves being in front of the camera. Her Gucci campaign went viral when she became the first model with Down Syndrome to model for a luxury fashion brand. She described the experience as “fabulous”. Goldstein decided she wanted to be a model after reading a book about the lives of golden era Hollywood stars. She is currently working on a campaign for Adidas and says she feels proud to be a model because the world needs to be more inclusive when it comes to people with disabilities. Tommy Jessop British actor Tommy Jessop, 37, starred in Line of Duty as Terry Boyle, who was mistreated by the police during an investigation. Show creator Jed Mercurio said Jessop’s talents empowered the cast to give him greater responsibility, describing him as a “true professional”, even during challenging scenes. He was the first actor with Down Syndrome to tour theatres as Hamlet. He was also the first to become a full voting member of BAFTA. He became Doctor of Arts (honoris causa) at the University of Winchester at a ceremony in Winchester Cathedral on 21st July 2021. His mother, Jane, always encouraged her son to pursue his dreams. She founded Blue Apple Theatre in Winchester for people with disabilities and to encourage actors with Down Syndrome. Jessop’s acting talent has caught the eye of Hollywood legend Steven Spielberg, who has cast him in his forthcoming WW2 series for Apple TV Plus, Masters of the Air. People with Down Syndrome are keen to remind the world they are people first, with skills and interests, so never let the stereotypical label get in the way!

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