Senior raises disability awareness

Micha Gachpar, Editor-at-Large

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Senior Erin Mallicoat completes an assignment in the library computer lab. Mallicoat went to Springfield, Ill. last spring to help declare Illinois Down Syndrome Day, which is officially March 15.
Photo by Zoe Bendoff

Meeting Barack Obama and helping to declare a state holiday were opportunities senior Erin Mallicoat had never thought of having when she began to outwardly advocate for people with disabilities. However, she is now able to attest to these accomplishments.

Growing up with a  combination of Down syndrome, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and Turner syndrome has presented Erin with challenges, such as being held back a grade and causing her to learn at a slower pace. She said she is proud to have a disability because she is fascinated to see how disabled people find their own ways of overcoming difficulties.

Erin has invested her time in raising awareness for people with disabilities and said she is dedicated to helping others with Down syndrome because of how much she relates to them.

Special education teacher Darin Sullivan said because Erin is very comfortable and confident with who she is, she advocates for others so they can “feel okay about having the struggles that come with a disability.”

Through her efforts to raise awareness for Down syndrome, Erin was given the opportunity to travel to the state capitol in Springfield, Ill. and assist state senators in creating a resolution that declared March 15 to be Down Syndrome Awareness Day in the state of Illinois.

“Just getting [to] the resolution  [felt] incredible,” said Erin. “Especially for an individual [who] has Down syndrome, seeing that [happen] was magical.”

Erin’s father, Ron Mallicoat, said Erin was given this opportunity through her involvement with the Adult Down Syndrome Center at Lutheran General Hospital. Erin, along with others with Down syndrome, was taken to Springfield to lobby for the rights of people with the disability.

“[The purpose of the trip] was really to engage our policy makers in matters tied to disability,” said Ron. “One of the things they were able to accomplish was passing a statewide Down Syndrome Day, which I think is a nice gesture that brings attention to a vulnerable population that deserves recognition.”

When she was 10 years old, Erin said she also had the chance to travel to the White House and meet President Barack Obama. Erin was invited to the White House as a personal guest of Marca Bristo, CEO and president of Access Living, a non-profit organization that works to protect the rights of people with disabilities.

Erin said meeting Obama was “a crazy experience” and being able to shake his hand was a highlight from her trip. Another exciting moment of the trip happened during a speech Bristo gave when she specifically announced Erin as a future leader of the disability movement.

Senior Kylie Weiner said she has been friends with Erin since they were in third grade, and that Erin has always been very vocal about her disabilities to show her support and understanding for others with Down syndrome.

“She actually posts on her Facebook about awareness for [Down syndrome], and she’ll address that [issue] even though she has this disability,” said Weiner. “It doesn’t stop her.”

Erin said she would not have accomplished so much in her efforts to advocate for people with disabilities if it were not for the support system of teachers, friends and family that she has created throughout her life.

“Me and my parents are always [trying] to raise awareness for people with disabilities, and it is a big part of our lives,” said Erin. “Helping others with disabilities is so important to me because I feel so connected to them.”

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Senior raises disability awareness