As a unified generation, let us stand together and declare that all people matter.
My name is Brina Kei Maxino, and I am from the Philippines. I have an intellectual disability – Down syndrome.
People with Down syndrome often have other medical problems that delay our physical and mental development.
When I was nine days old, a doctor told my parents that I might not live long because I had a hole in my heart, and very poor muscle tone.
I’m 22 today, and I am thankful to be alive.
When I was ten years old, a psychologist said that I had borderline IQ, and that I might not be able to finish grade school. I exceeded her expectations.
At 16 years old, I graduated from a regular high school as class valedictorian. And when I turned 20, I graduated from college with a degree in AB History.
Today, I work as an assistant teacher at a local preschool.
Throughout my growing up years, I studied in regular schools. Because I was slower than regular kids, I had to work harder. It is sad that some people do not see our hard work; instead they only see our disabilities.
Some classmates bullied me because I was not like them. They called me ugly and stupid. They excluded me from their games because I was too slow. There were schools that did not accept me because I was not smart enough.
Every day, people with intellectual disabilities suffer rejection and ridicule because others think we are not “good enough.”
They are wrong. We can do more and be more, if only the world gives us a fighting chance.
I am what I am today because of a strong support system. First, because of my parents and my family who love me unconditionally; second, because of the therapists, doctors, teachers and tutors who provided me with excellent care; third, because of the inclusive schools that accepted me and encouraged me to do my best; and fourth, because of Special Olympics that taught me to focus on my strengths, and to fight for the respect and inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities.
Just this year I was appointed as a 2020 UNESCO Global Champion for Inclusion in Education. I am the only recipient from the Asia Pacific region, alongside teachers, education policy makers and community leaders from around the globe. Most recently I fronted a Colgate Philippines #SmileStrong campaign for defying expectations in school and in life.
On International Day of Persons with Disabilities I had the chance to be interviewed by CNN to share why people like me, especially children need to be included and not be forgotten in the educational system.
I do this not for me, but with my voice, I seek opportunities to speak on behalf of the more than six million Special Olympics athletes around the world, I appeal to all people with good hearts. Please help us spread the message of love, acceptance, respect and inclusion. Please be the next heroes who will stop the bullying, rejection and ridicule of people with intellectual disabilities.
As a unified generation, let us stand together and declare that all people matter; we who are differently abled, we matter, too.
Adapted from a speech that Brina delivered on June 22, 2018, in Athens, Greece during the 7th Stavros Niarchos Foundation Conference of Philanthropy. Updated in 2020.