Olivia Hargroder is a Year 12 student at Southern Cross Catholic College, Scarborough, Queensland. Olivia was born with Down Syndrome and was told by doctors that she would never learn to speak. A member of the Down Syndrome Association of Queensland, Olivia made her public speaking debut last year at a national education conference. She was recently invited to speak at the 12th World Down Syndrome Day conference held on March 21 at the United Nations’ Headquarters in New York. She was the only Australian student invited to address the conference. This is a transcript of her speech.
Watch the Conference on UN Web TV below (jump to 2:28:00 to view Olivia Hargroder’s speech):
My name is Olivia Hargroder, I am 17 years old and I live in Brisbane, Australia.
I’m in my last year of high school and I work part time at Coles Supermarket.
I want to travel the world as an actor, singer, dancer, and public speaker.
I have a great family and a dog called Dolly.
When I was born I was so sick that my parents couldn’t even cuddle me.
They stayed by my side until my heart was fixed, reading books to me.
It was no surprise that reading and books became my absolute favourite thing to do as I got bigger and stronger.
The doctor told my parents that because I had Down Syndrome I would never learn to speak…well that was wrong because I became a chatterbox.
I love little kids and I have recently finished an Open University Course on Child Development that really got me thinking.
One of the things I learnt was all children are born optimistic which is great. But are all people, doctors, nurses, physios, teachers, grandparents, are they optimistic about all children?
Are children with Down Syndrome given the same hope as other kids.
Let me introduce you to three of my friends.
Funny, great person, he works at the coolest radio station in Sydney where he meets famous people, but mostly he’s inspiring.
He inspires young people with Down Syndrome to go and get a job or helps them with their career.
He was a finalist as Young Australian of the Year and has won awards for employment inclusion.
Maddy is inspiring too.
We met at horse riding and then in the pool.
She decided she wanted to be a model so she worked really hard to get fit and now she models all over the world and has her own clothing label (and has walked down NY Fashion Week too times).
He is the most amazing photographer and he lives in Brisbane too. Our families knew each other even before we were born. You really have to see his work – he is amazing. He began with a cheap $25 camera. He is very quiet and patient. He will sit for hours and hours waiting for the perfect shot. And when he enters his photographs into competitions like National Geographic, no one knows he has Down Syndrome.
They just see his work and he blows everyone away.
When my three friends Rory, Maddy and Nathan were would anyone have imagined they could be
- The most awarded young photographer of the year?
- An international model
- Nominated for Young Australian of the Year?
I’m sure the doctor who told me I would never speak couldn’t have imagined me here in New York speaking to you at the United Nations.
So when a baby with Down Syndrome is born, can’t we just expect the best and believe they can be anything they want to be?
In Australian people with Down Syndrome are all put in a box called Intellectual Impairment.
The problem is that most of the time it is my physical problems that stop me doing things.
But our box doesn’t include physical impairments.
- Our hands don’t always work too well
- The bench is always too high
- Or we can get sore feet from standing too long
- Our muscles don’t always work too well
- Our joints can be unstable
- We may not see or hear well
- We may have a heart or thyroid problem
Some people then think we are
- or A Work Avoider
But maybe if they knew our physical difficulties, maybe we could get more help and understanding.
If I want to compete in district school sport I have to fit in a Paralympic box.
I have to stay in the Intellectual Impairment box even though I have had so many knee and foot operations.
So many of us swim and would love the chance to compete in the Paralympics, but next to other people in our box, who are often big, tall and strong, we never get a chance to make a National team.
Geoff Huegill is one of our Olympic swimmers. Maybe he should be called Geoff Huge?
At the moment there are three Paralympic boxes:
- Intellectual impairment – for people with an IQ under 75
- Physical impairment with sections for:
- Problems with muscles
- Problems with joints
- Or People of small stature
- Visual impairments for people with low or no vision
As an athlete with Down Syndrome we can only swim in the Intellectual Impairment box even though we may have all the other Physical and Visual impairments. Is this fair?
Hey! Why don’t we have our own box, where we all have the same problems, where our physical problems are all realised, we are a similar size, where we all have an extra chromosome.
There are around eight million of us around the world – why not?
It would be so much easier for sport, education, health and government forms.
So if we have to be put in a box – let’s make our own box, Down Syndrome, with plenty of room for all of us and definitely no lid.
Why? Because we are optimistic about our own future and we may just want to fly.
Olivia Hargroder’s biography from the WDSD Conference website: Olivia Hargroder is in her final year of school at Southern Cross Catholic College, Scarborough, Queensland, Australia. Whilst studying and working in childcare, she became aware of a disparity between ‘best practice’ and ‘actual practice’ for children with Down syndrome. Keen to make educators aware of her unique perspective, she has presented her Expect The Best address with great acclaim to the DSQ National Education Conference in 2016. Olivia is an engaging, entertaining and eloquent speaker who confronts reflex attitudes to Down syndrome, whilst challenging the current model right down to its roots. She suggests that the rigid classification of Intellectual Impairment fails to appreciate the myriad of associated physical impairments which could vastly alter learning outcomes. Olivia suggests that if we have to be categorized in a box to fit a funding model, sports classification or to determine policy, then let’s make it our own box, with very broad sides and definitely no lid!