Every parent is proud of their child when they graduate from college. It is a big academic accomplishment that not everyone can or does.
Jay Handlin had another reason to be happy, though. Rachel, his daughter, has a genetic disorder called Down syndrome. She is one of the few people with Down syndrome who have gone to college.
When her proud dad posted about her accomplishment on Twitter in mid-May, many people congratulated the family.
This is my daughter, Rachel Handlin. Tonight, she earned her full Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Photography & Media from the prestigious California Institute of the Arts, @CalArts. Rachel has #Downsyndrome.
I am officially the proudest father on the planet.
Fight me. pic.twitter.com/t39gY58Gqf
— Jay Handlin (@jayhandlin) May 16, 2020
Even though kids with Down Syndrome in the U.S. have the right to a free and good education, there is no guarantee that this will continue after they graduate high school. Many people with Down syndrome do not meet the requirements to go to college because the disorder is often accompanied by different levels of intellectual impairment.
Rachel and her family have always had to deal with “doubters,” but that hasn’t stopped them.
Schools and colleges are happy to have students with Down syndrome sign up for classes or enrichment programs. However, getting a degree is a whole different story.
Even though changes can be made to make the content easier to understand, the hard requirements for a Bachelor’s degree are the same for everyone.
This year, Rachel Handlin graduated from the California Institute of the Arts with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography and Media. She was one of the few people with Down syndrome who met those requirements.
Even though the exact numbers aren’t known, Mr Handlin said, “Out of all the people with Down syndrome in the world, about one in a million have earned a traditional college degree.” The estimate was agreed upon by the Pediatric Therapy Network.
In the global Down syndrome population, college degree recipients are one in a million. Today, former PTN client Rachel Handlin will earn her Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in photography and media from the California Institute of the Arts! We couldn’t be more proud of her! pic.twitter.com/fd0WjdbKx1
— Momentum Pediatric Therapy Network (@PTN4Kids) May 15, 2020
In fact, many people with Down syndrome are good enough to do this, but they don’t have the chance or money to do it.
Even though Down syndrome is so common, the Global Down Syndrome Foundation says that the National Institutes of Health spends the least amount of money on research into it.
Handlin said that people who beat the odds are the ones whose parents didn’t want to limit their children’s opportunities and fought against unfair odds, social prejudices, low expectations, and institutions that were set up against them but still won.
When Rachel was a baby, the Handlin family showed her what they called “wonderful art.”
He said that the first time they took her to the Musée d’Orsay, Rachel’s body felt like it was being shocked. Laura was holding Rachel at the time. She felt the work in her body deeply and right away.
She got a Nikon Coolpix point-and-shoot digital camera for her ninth birthday, and that’s when she got interested in photography. She took classes all through high school to build up her portfolio.
That portfolio helped her get into CalArts, where she was the first person with Down syndrome to study there.
Handlin told the school that each person is valued for who they are. It is perfect for Rachel because change is the only thing that is “normal”.
Her schooling was not easy, so Rachel stayed off campus with her mom so she wouldn’t have to worry about learning to live independently while still in school.
But nothing can take away from what she did, and most of the feedback was positive.
Anyone who does well at something is a winner, but to do well despite extra problems and biases is truly amazing. What a beautiful, smart little girl she is, and what a great, caring father she has. I hope she does well in everything she does from now on.
In 2020, Handlin wasn’t the only person with Down syndrome whose parents were happy.
AnnaRose Rubright of Glassboro, New Jersey, was the first person with Down syndrome to get a Bachelor’s degree from Rowan University. She has worked in radio, TV, and movies before.
Congratulations to RCBC alumna AnnaRose Rubright for making history as the first person with Down Syndrome to graduate from Rowan University! Your inspiring story is making national headlines, and we can’t wait to see what you accomplish! https://t.co/d9GocDchLm #WeAreRCBC pic.twitter.com/vlgx2vhGiN
— RCBC (@RowanBurlington) May 21, 2020
We need to look at people with disabilities in a new way.
Please TELL your family and friends about this.