Disability World
A bimonthly web-zine of international disability news and views • Issue no. 14 June-August 2002

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Interview: "Down Syndrome is not a Disease, but Another Personal Characteristic"
An interview by Digital Solidarity (Solidaridad Digital) with Pablo Pineda, Spain

Pablo Pineda is the first person with Down Syndrome to obtain a major degree from a regular university on Spain. Not quite satisfied with such an achievement, he is currently studying educational psychology, while working at the municipality of Málaga, Spain.

His success has been accompanied by constant struggle against prejudice, particularly that surrounding Down syndrome, not a rose garden. Pablo Pineda told us that this type of disability is not a disease, but: "another personal characteristic."

During a recent "Documentos TV", a program of Spanish Television (Televisión Española), Pablo Pineda demonstrated how his disability did not limit him from conducting a regular life. Following are highlights from the interview.

Was it very hard for you being in the university?
Yes, it has been very hard to confront the existing prejudice regarding Down Syndrome and at the same time to deal with the academic demands of higher education. Yet these challenges have also been gratifying.

What prejudices exist around Down syndrome?
First I do not consider that Down Syndrome is a disease. For me it is a personal characteristic. I am fine and healthy. We must not be treated as sick. There are other prejudices and you could write a book about them. There are reactions like pity, the misconception that we are not intelligent, and a long list of social and moral incorrect misinterpretations. Fortunately, we are overcoming some misconceptions. I am just doing my part and demonstrating that I am as competent as anyone.

Do you know if the situation of persons with Down syndrome is better in other countries?

Italy is the only European country I know of where things are better for persons with Down syndrome. This has to do with the democratic tradition of that country. The disability issues have been considered there for a long time. As for Spain, with a recent democratic history, disability issues are now being addressed, and in general, things are not bad. We can say that Spain and Italy are the leading countries in this field. That is good, yet there is a lot to be done.

How do you get along with your classmates and teachers?
There was a surprise that was overcome: nobody expects to have a person with Down syndrome as a classmate, and after that my communication with the rest of the students was fine, and soon I made friends in all the classes. I found old companions in the education psychology classes and that was good. As for the teachers I am just one more, since I do not need anything special. They teach the lessons and I take notes.

What do you like most about the university?
Without doubt the best things are sharing with my classmates and participating in all the activities. I enjoy independence. Anyone attending a university campus knows that you do what you want, no one is controlling you. Being at the Institute emphasizes this sense of liberty.

What would you like to do in the future?
I want to work. Where... we will see. As everybody else I want to work in my field, in the area of education.

What message would you like to send to society?
I would like to become an example. I want to demonstrate that if one puts into work whatever one is able, you can do what you want. But beside what I was able to achieve, I also expect society to do its part. I do not want this to be a one way effort. This is a start of success and shows people that we are as competent as the rest. If you are the one who is setting up the barriers, you are then destroying possibilities for others. And, on the other hand it is essential for society to understand all of these things.

For additional information, please contact Digital Solidarity.

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