All You Need Is Love

Elena Lyubovina, PR manager / “Downside Up” Charitable Fund

According to statistics from the Health and Social Development Ministry, 13 million people, roughly 10 percent of Russia’s population, are disabled. Most of them are excluded from society, they can’t lead a full life, develop their potential, study or work. In today’s Russia there are few examples of disabled people who are integrated into the daily life of the community.

Due to a lack of awareness, thousands of families raising disabled children have to fight for their future in an ignorant and unfriendly environment. In Russia the most vulnerable social group are those with Down syndrome, the diagnosis of which is nearly a social curse. About 85 percent of families reject children with this diagnosis on the advice of medical staff. Doctors that make such diagnoses often truly believe that such children are incapable of learning and need to be kept under specialized care throughout their lives.

To change the public attitude towards people with Down syndrome, in 2006 Downside Up launched an awareness-raising program aimed at fighting pre-existing myths and stereotypes about the syndrome, and about the abilities and capabilities of such people.

The fund’s goals include securing an information flow into the mass media designed to capture a broad target audience, as well as securing the attention of Moscow’s business and art elite.

New principles for the interpretation of information on Down syndrome are being created for journalists: a new vision of the problem, free from “tragic” connotations, through the creation of a positive image of an individual with Down syndrome. In this view, a family raising a child with Down syndrome is shown as ordinary, and the child is seen as unique and loved, with his own role in life, despite particularities of his development. His thoughts, feelings, achievements in sport, music and art are of special value.

A new target audience is being formed, including mass media contacts, which marks a move from specialized sources to more general socio-political publications, women’s magazines, top TV channels, leisure publications, radio stations and news internet sources.

Downside Up holds events involving nonprofit organizations, and both state and business bodies to draw attention to the problems of disabled people. It also encourages well-known figures from a variety of different professional spheres, like famous cultural and sport stars, photographers, film directors, advertising designers and journalists, to take up promotional and educational work free of charge.

For instance, the “Just people with Down syndrome” poster exhibition brought together 20 top graphic designers from six countries and is on display for the third year running in different cities in Russia and Europe. It has proven extremely popular and been covered extensively by the media.

The “All you need is love” calendar brought together famous Russian sportsmen and celebrities and children with Down syndrome. The children took part in a photo-session with Vladimir Spivakov, Vladimir Pozner, Ivan Urgant, Andrei Makarevich and others. The project leader, photograph, Vladimir Mishukov, got a special award in the Moscow government’s Serebryanaya Camera photo competition.

In working with the Moscow Times’ “Create yourself” project, Downside Up has shown the artistic abilities of children with Down syndrome and been able to remind people, that just like all other children, those with Down syndrome have friends, do homework, dance, draw and adore ice cream.

Downside Up’s work is based on several principles: it unites people who want to make a difference, creating projects allow for extending and diversifying their target audience; the long-term viability of its information campaigns.

The target audience, usually with little initial knowledge of the problem, receives and disseminates reliable information about Down syndrome, thus joining Downside Up in its educational mission.

The positive results are obvious: the amount of stories and publications has gone up and journalists are becoming more accurate in their coverage. The interaction with the mass media is becoming dependable and constructive, which no doubt positively influences the public’s attitude to disabled people.

Downside Up’s annual “Red Square” charity bike ride has become a well-known event for the organization and benefits children with Down syndrome. This year it brings together about 170 participants from 22 companies, such as Group of companies JamilCo, HSBC, Shell, ITERA. Participants will cover 100 kilometers in the Moscow region and will finish the ride in Red Square, with Sergei Ivanov, winner several stages of the Tour de France, featuring in the event. This year ride will bring over 6 million rubles to the charity.

Downside Up invites you to meet the cyclists on 30 August 2009 at 11 a.m. in Vasilyevsky Spusk and take part in its “Free Hugs” action. And there will be people for everyone to hug: Vice-Miss Universe Vera Krasova, radio anchor Tutta Larsen, a journalist, a police officer, a company director and — most importantly — a child with Down syndrome.