We’ve seen everyday people petition Disney to diversify the animated character representations in their films to reflect and represent what real life people actually look like. There was the petition from 17 year-old Jewel Moore who has struggled with her weight and wanted Disney to create a plus-size princess so she doesn’t feel excluded from the culture she is immersed in. And there was Italian artist Alexsandro Palombo who showed the world what the Disney Princesses would look like if they were disabled, like him and many other fans in the world today.
Now there’s another one to add to the collection of Disney fans wanting to have their vice heard by the studio. A couple from California who have a daughter with Down Syndrome have started their own online petition to see if Disney would be willing to expand their range to include a young girl who has down syndrome.
Partners Keston and Andrea Ott-Dahl have been through quite the ordeal with their 15 month old daughter Delaney Skye.
In 2012 the women agreed for Keston to be a surrogate mom for another lesbian couple from Silicon Valley. When doctors found out the baby had down syndrome, they advised the intended parents to have the baby terminated. Can you imagine!!!
But this horrible situation turned into a beautiful blessing for both Andrea and Keston who, although they struggled with the thought of having a baby with down syndrome, decided to keep her. The women took the initiative to educate themselves as much as possible about baby Delaney’s diagnosis and began an early intervention program to give Delaney’s cognitive abilities a head start even before she was born.
Andrea started taking Choline, DHA and Omegas during her pregnancy while Keston set up therapy sessions to begin when Delaney was 2 months old. In a nutshell, they refused to believe the stigma from doctors and their previous ordeal and decided that their baby was going to live a full, happy and able life.
Now that she is 15 months, she is absorbing the world around her, and is apparently a huge ‘Frozen’ fan. As part of their mission to have Delaney grow up as normal as possible, for the couple that means having realistic role models and representations in the media she grows up with.
“Our daughter has Down syndrome. Like other children, she adores animated movies — so when I see her mesmerized by Disney princesses, it breaks my heart to know that she has no role models like herself.” explains the Disney petition.
“Disney are in a unique position to directly change the way future generations and societies view people with Down syndrome,” said Keston.
Their online campaign which is aimed at getting the attention of Sean Bailey, Walt Disney Studios President, has almost reached their target of 32,000 signatures.
“Disney…has long providing wonderful moral lessons that teach our children to be good people — but sadly, the company comes up short in one critical area. Its movies have almost no representation of disabled people, those often bullied and looked down upon by their fellow children. What wonderful lessons of diversity, compassion, and acceptance Disney could teach our kids if they promoted disabled characters as heroes and heroines in their beloved movies.”
But it’s not just the Disney petition that they are drawing attention to. The couple’s unique story has also shown what sometimes happens to couples who find out they are having a down syndrome baby. Initially Keston thought terminating the pregnancy was a good idea, but Andrea, who had previously had an abortion and was carrying Delaney decided against it. When the women both came to an agreement to have this baby it was a turning point for them.
In an interview with Yahoo Health about their ordeal Keston explains that according to recent studies, the abortion rate when mothers find out they are having a child with down syndrome is anywhere between 60-90 percent in the US. It’s insane to even fathom that number, but now there are laws in certain states which require the parent to receive accurate information about the condition before they are allowed to make any decisions.
“Life is unexpected, and you should educate yourself,” Andrea said. “I wish that the intended parents would have gotten a bit more education [about children with Down syndrome]. It’s not really as scary as everyone thinks it is.”
Surrogacy parenting can often be filled with many complications, which we have seen recently in other news stories. There was the report about a young Thai baby boy with down syndrome who was set to be taken to Australia with his siblings, by his new parents. But the Australian father decided to leave baby Gammy behind because of his condition, which alerted authorities to look into his background and find out that he is a convicted pedophile which complicated the issue even further.
Then there was the story about the Ohio lesbian couple who are suing their Sperm donor bank because they are a white couple who weren’t told they were having an African-American child. They are keeping the baby, for the record, but because they live in a predominantly white neighborhood, they are suing for emotional trauma because they were not prepared for what they were going to experience having a baby of a different race.
There are so many other elements to each of these stories, but the common thread is the children. Surrogate children who deserve to live a life free of pressure from society and the knowledge they they were unwanted or brought into this world under difficult circumstances.
Just like the Ott-Dahls who want their daughter Delaney Skye to grow up normal and to see herself reflected in the movies she watches, parents and adults involved in surrogacy have a duty to give these children the absolute best they deserve, and not treat them like an accessory. It breaks our heart to hear incidents like the aforementioned, but we are in awe of what Keston and Andrea are doing. They have even started a non-profit foundation to educate parents about down syndrome and raise awareness of how they too can give their child the best life possible.
We hope their story will reach the ears and eyes of many more couples around the world and give them a sliver of hope that having a baby with down syndrome is not a cause for heartbreak, but a blessing.