The video begins with Olivia Wilde, a white, able bodied actress, doing all these lovely things in her life. She runs, she hangs out with her family- she looks happy, healthy, and content.
“I see myself as a daughter, a sister, a best friend. As a person you can rely on. I see myself meeting someone that I can share my life with. I see myself singing, dancing, and laughing, until I cannot breathe. And also crying sometimes.”
The voiceover continues throughout, a message of possibilities and inspiration, and at the end, says “This is how I see myself. How do you see me?” And at this point, you see the only shot in the entire video of AnnaRose, the girl with Down Syndrome who was speaking.
Now, the message is that you should see the person first, before the syndrome, and to ask the viewers how they see a person who has Down Syndrome- as a person first, or as the disability. And it’s an extremely valid question.
However, this video, designed to promote World Down Syndrome Day, has a major flaw.
AnnaRose could have done all of those things herself. By putting in a thin, white, famous, able bodied actress to replace her, you erase the disability. Do disabled people need to see themselves as able-bodied, in order to be seen? Do we need to be seen as able bodied, in order to be seen as people first? Can we only be successful, beautiful, happy- if you first completely erase our disabilities? This actress with Down Syndrome is capable of doing everything you see an able bodied actress doing. Why should she have to first erase her disability in order to do so?
This is an assumption that is deeply engrained: that someone with a disability could not possibly be happy or whole.
And it’s dangerous.