Thursday, February 13, 2014

Great Expectations

When I first chose the countries I would visit for this project, I wanted a good variety. I looked for places that would provide exposure to different cultures, different political systems, different attitudes. Well, I don't know that I could have picked three countries as different as Japan, Jordan, and Germany. Project-wise, Germany has been fascinating so far. But as you might imagine it's been quite different from my previous destinations.

One of the first things I did here in Nuremberg was visit the Down Syndrome Info Center. And it has proved to be the largest, most extensive Down Syndrome organization I have visited thus far. I received a very warm welcome, as I have in every country, and was introduced to all the services the info center provides. The organization started about 25 years ago and offers information and services for people with Down Syndrome of all ages. For example, they have a sort of clinic about once a month where parents of babies with Down Syndrome can bring their child and talk to all sorts of specialists under one roof. They meet with occupational therapists and doctors, talk with speech therapists, and get advice from other parents. What a great support system! Then, for adults with Down Syndrome, the organization offers numerous classes through a program called DS Akademie. These classes are a great way for people to interact and continue learning after they've finished school.

I was able to attend a fantastic weekly yoga class offered through DS Akademie. I'm not too experienced with yoga, so a class with adults with special needs is really right at my level. It was extremely well structured for people with Down Syndrome. The teacher took time at the beginning of the class to discuss concentration and other important aspects of yoga. There was a lot of repetition throughout the class, which is great to ingrain the moves. And rather than only ending the class with relaxation, these activities were interspersed throughout the class. They were especially welcome after the difficult poses... I really should work on my flexibility.

Also offered through the DS Akademie was an afternoon seminar: Sonne, Mond, und Sterne (Sun, Moon, and Stars). A parent of a boy with Down Syndrome volunteered his time and expertise in astronomy for this seminar. 11 students attended this seminar and while there were certainly some yawns throughout, I was sincerely impressed with their engagement and participation in the lecture. I had to laugh, before the seminar began, the teacher asked them if anyone could speak English. Most everyone responded, "Yes!" This is especially amusing because if you were to ask Bailey if she speaks Spanish, she would certainly respond, "Si!" Too cute.

The purpose of these seminars is really to provide further learning opportunities. Similar to the United States, kids with special needs in Germany are taught some basic academics, but academic lessons quickly give way to life skills lessons in many cases. There is no reason academic lessons should stop. Not only was the content of the Sun, Moon, and Stars seminar interesting and appropriate for the audience, it was a great opportunity for the students to practice good classroom behavior, interact with their peers, and participate in discussions.

Another thing I was impressed with is the publication that the Down Syndrome info center sends out three times a year. It is a very well-done magazine that goes to people all over the world. There are a variety of articles from inspiring personal stories to informative medical news on many different topics. I got to spend some time packing the magazines to be sent out with other loyal volunteers, mostly mothers of kids with Down Syndrome. Also helping out was a young woman with Down Syndrome named, Youstina. She works full time at the info center helping out in a number of different capacities. After my first visit to the info center, I got to ride the train back home with Youstina. She's taking an English class so we chit chatted about our siblings and Lady Gaga. What fun!

Another sweet new friend, Youstina.

So far, I have noticed that there are high expectations for people with special needs in Germany. In Japan and Jordan, I certainly met individuals who had high expectations for their children or even for the special needs community as a whole. But in Germany, high expectations are more widespread, from parents to community members to the government. For example, the seminar I attended through DS Akademie was held on a Saturday because it is expected that adults with disabilities will have a full time job during the week. Likewise, I have heard of more people with special needs who live on their own or in a group home than anywhere I've been so far. These opportunities are made possible because of high expectations for people with disabilities and these expectations will continue to translate into forward progress.

One last thing, I want to share a video with those of you interested. This past December, some people put together a campaign for the International Day of Persons with Disabilities that featured disabled mannequins modeling the latest fashions in a storefront in Zurich, Switzerland (a place known for its upscale shopping district). A friend posted it on Facebook just after I returned from a quick weekend trip to Zurich! The video is awesome, check it out here.


  1. Great post and update Hannah!! Thank you. How anyone can watch that video and not weep is beyond me. To finally be represented - amazing. I loved it.

  2. Powerful. Thanks for sharing the video.