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A touching and empowering animated film is calling attention to students with Down syndrome and it is set to debut on World Down Syndrome Day, March 21.

Publicis New York and CoorDown, Italy’s national organization for people with Down syndrome, looks to change the conversation around Down syndrome with the short film, Lea Goes To School, which addresses inclusive education.

The film is presented as an animated children’s storybook and features voiceover by Grace, a 11-year old student with Down syndrome. Lea Goes to School is the story of a little girl with Down syndrome as she sets off on her first day of school. An alternative “special” life path seems to have been laid out for her – a “special” classroom, a “special” job and a “special” home – but the girl expects to have the same beginning as every other child and voices a clear message: “include us from the start.” At the end, we see Grace, who asks viewers to “let our story begin the right way.”

In 2017, Publicis New York and CoorDown launched the film #NotSpecialNeeds, blending humor and honesty to shift the cultural conversation around Down syndrome. Lea Goes to School debuts for World Down Syndrome Day, March 21, and can be viewed on the CoorDown Facebook and YouTube channels.

Luca Lorenzini and Luca Pannese, executive creative directors of Publicis New York, stated: "We are convinced that the language chosen to communicate should always be in line with the topic being discussed. Last year, for example, we chose to emphasize with comedy how ridiculous the term “special needs” is. This year, since we are talking about schools and children, we decided to use illustrations. We are telling, with the same language that a children's book would use, the story of Lea, a young student who would like to go to school with her peers. It is a complex subject with many sides, but we tried to tell the story in a way that can be understood by everyone. Like every year, it was wonderful to collaborate with CoorDown, and like every year we are happy to support people with Down syndrome in the battle for their rights".

Antonella Falugiani, president of CoorDown Onlus, added: “If every year on March 21 when we celebrate World Down Syndrome Day we feel the need to awaken the conscience of the community to defend the rights of people with Down syndrome, it is because we know there is still much work to be done. We need a radical change of perspective: a school system that is able to involve everybody, including students with disabilities, triggers a virtuous circle and is essential to breaking down barriers and stereotypes, but, most importantly, it helps children develop a greater awareness of themselves and others, which is a crucial step in their way to independence. We must start with schools to build a truly inclusive society”.

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An inclusive education is more than an aspiration, it is a fundamental human right of every child, says the organization. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was adopted in 2006 and has been ratified by 176 countries. Article 24 of the Convention establishes, together with other UN instruments, the human right to an inclusive education and calls on governments to expedite the transformation of their education systems, to ensure an inclusive education for students with disabilities in their regular schools and classrooms. Research has shown that inclusive education confers social and academic benefits for all: students without disabilities learn the value of diversity and are less likely to develop discriminating behaviors, and the benefits for students with disabilities extend beyond academic learning to increased social connection, and better employment and independence outcomes.

Lea Goes to School was created together with DSi – Down Syndrome International, with the support of Down Syndrome Australia, Down’s Syndrome Association (UK), All Means All - The Australian Alliance for Inclusive Education and Movimento Down (Brazil), and under the patronage of the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities.

The Include Us From the Start website contains more information on the campaign, articles and research on inclusive education, other insights on the subject and first-hand stories. The official campaign hashtags are: #IncludeUsFromTheStart and #WDSD18.

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