When Matthew MacNeil presented on March 21 at the United Nations’ World Down Syndrome Day conference, he brought a uniquely Canadian perspective and a lot of experience with him.
MacNeil is an advocate for the Canadian Down Syndrome Society (CDSS) and the chair of VATTA (Voices at the Table for Advocacy). He has been presenting and advocating for people with Down syndrome for years, and while he was a bit nervous about presenting at the UN headquarters in New York, he felt well prepared.
With a history of playing hockey and football, and being captain of a Special Olympic team, it was natural for the Tillsonburg (Ont.) CRC member to bring up Canada’s favorite sport in his presentation. “People say Canada is only good at hockey,” he said, “But let me tell you, we’re very good at advocating as well!”
He spoke about the local and national representation he and the rest of the VATTA team have been able to accomplish. “We talked about what we want to change, and we asked to speak to people who we thought could help us.”
The committee wrote letters and spoke with politicians, including the prime minister. “[We were] looking for opportunities to let people know we were the go-to group to answer their questions. Our strengths were building relationships,” he said.
Kirk Crowther, CDSS’s National Executive Director, presented with Matthew at the conference. “These self-advocates took us places we’d never been before. Not only were they sharing their own voice, but the voices of people just like them from coast to coast. It was quite amazing,” he said.
Their presentation matched the theme of this year’s World Down Syndrome Day conference, My Voice, My Community. World Down Syndrome Day is held on March 21 each year, and is officially ratified by the United Nations. MacNeil’s presentation can be seen here.