AMERICAN David Egan, an advocate for people with intellectual disabilities, was invited to deliver the feature address at the annual World Down Syndrome Day (WDSD) Conference at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Port of Spain yesterday.
The 40-year-old Egan, who is featured in a recent book, Firestarters, has always dreamed big. When he was eight, he dreamt of winning races, and so he started out as a Special Olympics swimmer, and then competed in soccer, basketball, softball and tennis. He won many accolades.
In addition to his athletic accomplishments, in 2000 he was elected to represent the state of Virginia at the Global Athlete Congress in the Netherlands, and in 2010 at the Global Athlete Congress in Morocco. He has been involved in community outreach since 1999 when he volunteered at the Special Olympics World Games in Raleigh, North Carolina and in 2011 in Athens, Greece. He cheered the crowds at the opening ceremony at the 2015 World Summer Games in Los Angeles.
As he grew, he looked to bigger goals, such as having a job and finding ways to advocate and change attitudes toward people with intellectual disabilities. He is living his dream and inspiring others to live theirs.
Egan spoke with Newsday on a number of topics, including the conference and his life so far.
On being chosen as the keynote speaker for the conference, he said: “It is great to have a worldwide community. It will also be fitting to say, ‘My community, my workplace.’ That was the theme for WDSD, and I think it goes without saying that this should be more paramount, more universal, in such a way that other communities around the world can pick up from the examples that we are having here.”
He was “excited, no matter what, when it comes to the advancement of causes of people with disabilities, and I appreciate the contributions that are being made and the progress that we are achieving. There are a lot of things we can look into and how we go about supporting those causes, but it goes to show why we are in a community of our own, but I kind of see it as how we could rejoin the worldwide community because not everybody has the services that are needed. And I think that is important because the people of the disability community want that support and those services for them.” Egan wants to share with as many people as possible in countries around the world what support systems and services for individuals are needed to assist people with disabilities.
About his own disability, he said: “I accepted my own disability from the time I had it, but I was too young to know it. When I got older I was asking my parents questions about, what is this disability thing? Why do I have it? Can it be given to someone else, not me?
“But we live in an imperfect world, and we are not all perfect, but we can accept who we are as individuals, and how we want people to accept us. I am comfortable with that.” Egan said there are great examples out there in the disabled community, with a variety of opinions, and their voices should be heard, and they should be seen in public. “That is the kind of community I am visualising. How this world can come to understand persons with disabilities better.” He admitted there had been progress but said there are also challenges and obstacles.
“But we would get there and this is the time to really address those issues.
“I’m not trying to say something that takes away from WDSD, because it’s the heart of what we do every day. It’s not a one-day event, it’s an ongoing one ,and I want to continue those accomplishments, things that we leave behind for others to pick up on and say yes, we can do this, we can go on our own, be who we are in a community that accepts us, and there are communities who are willing to do that.