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Insights Into Down Syndrome … from an Expert

During Down Syndrome Awareness Month—and every month—Special Olympics athletes like David Egan are banishing myths and leading the way to inclusion.
David Egan testifying, speaking into a microphone. Two officials are to his left, a male and female both dressed in business suits.

“People with Down syndrome are individuals with unique personalities,” says David Egan—and he should know. In his own unique way, he’s spent the last few decades shattering stereotypes as a medal-winning athlete, trusted employee and sought-after public speaker.

David’s also been a role model to adults and children with intellectual disabilities AND to those without. Why? Because he’s shown them all the wide range of successes that someone with Down syndrome can achieve – even if they have to overcome early skepticism from those around them.

“People with Down syndrome may have challenges, but we can learn with those who believe in us…those who have patience to discover our skills and the determination to make us succeed,” he says.

When David was born in the 1970s, doctors gave grim predictions for the life of someone with Down syndrome. Typically, parents were told their baby would never walk, talk or benefit from higher education. Such a child could expect a life span of a decade or so, if that.

David Egan swimming a race.

Now 41, David has proved everyone wrong. He’s become the first person with an intellectual disability to be awarded the Joseph P. Kennedy Foundation Public Policy Fellowship, working with U.S. congressional offices on Social Security legislation.

After nearly 20 years at Booz Allen Hamilton, David is now a community relations specialist at SourceAmerica, advocating for employment of people with disabilities. He’s also finishing up a four-year assignment as a Special Olympics Sargent Shriver International Global Messenger. For this, he traveled the world as part of a select group of global spokespeople for Special Olympics. He also serves on several Boards to promote abilities and collaborate with other advocacy groups.

Yet David has proved that Down syndrome is only a part of his life. “Down syndrome does not define us as people,” he says. “It is a condition that makes it harder for us to learn, but with patience and persistence, we are able to contribute to our society.”

David acknowledges that people with Down syndrome might need help on various levels—but who doesn’t? “While we need help, I think that we can also help others see what matters in life,” he says. “My brother Marc says that I taught him how to be compassionate and open to differences, seeing what unifies us.”

Through it all, David has been involved in medical research studies—from the University of Wisconsin to the National Institutes of Health. He says, “Maybe we [people with Down syndrome] are here to unveil the secrets of the brain. Who knows what will be discovered? Our extra chromosome may be a clue to better understand many diseases that affect the larger population like Alzheimer’s, cancer, diabetes and heart problems.”

He adds, “No matter my age or the fact that I have Down syndrome, I am a citizen that matters and I belong in my community. Our world is a better place with us…We should be included at all levels of our society from the womb to the grave.”

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