Japan’s World Down Syndrome Day Poster Created by Photographer and Model with Condition; Poster Aims to ‘End the Stereotypes’

Courtesy of the Japan Down Syndrome Society
Kazuya Shimizu in this year’s World Down Syndrome Day poster

A model and a photographer with Down syndrome have contributed to Japan’s poster to raise awareness about the condition this year.

The poster was made in time for World Down Syndrome Day, which is officially observed on March 21 by the United Nations. Making the poster is more meaningful when people with Down syndrome are involved, letting society know about the potential of those with the condition.

Photographer Taishi Kawada of Nagoya is a 42-year-old camera enthusiast and has held 18 solo photo exhibitions. Kawada has loved cameras ever since childhood. The poster features Kazuya Shimizu of Minami-minowa, Nagano Prefecture, who graduated from a special needs school in the prefecture this month. Shimizu, 18, loves playing Boccia, dancing and participating in a theatrical group.

Courtesy of Keiko Kawada
Taishi Kawada

A member of the Japan Down Syndrome Society asked if Kawada would be willing to take photos for the poster, and the photographer happily agreed. Shimizu was selected from among the society’s members who applied to be the model for the poster.

The photoshoot was held at Shimizu’s school in December. Kawada took pictures of Shimizu as he threw a Boccia ball.

“Taking photos for the poster was a very rare experience as Taishi usually works independently when taking photos,” said Keiko, Kawada’s mother. “Taishi was so nervous at the beginning, but gradually relaxed since the people at the site were all kind.” According to Keiko, Kawada let out a gasp of satisfaction when he saw the final version of the poster “Kazuya was very happy to serve as a model since he likes appearing in public,” said Akemi, Shimizu’s mother. “He enjoyed the photoshoot very much.”

“End The Stereotypes” is the theme of this year’s World Down Syndrome Day. The poster was made with this theme in mind.

The Japan Down Syndrome Society says on its website: “Those with Down syndrome or an intellectual disability are sometimes not treated as equals to those without the condition due to stereotypes.

“Such assumptions or prejudices narrow people’s horizons like a tunnel. By reevaluating personal assumptions, people can change how they have viewed the world so far.”

Overcoming difficulties

Though both mothers are confident now, they initially struggled with how to raise children with the syndrome and gradually overcame the difficulties.

“When Taishi was born, there was almost no place to receive guidance. I was isolated,” Keiko recalled. She realized that schools in Japan would not bring out Taishi’s true self. Keiko decided to take Taishi and her younger son to Hawaii and stayed there for about four years. Taishi enjoyed water sports and the residents were kind to the Kawada family.

When Akemi learned that Kazuya might have Down syndrome, she felt sorry that she was unable to bring him into this world like other children. However, Akemi gradually realized that she was discriminating against him. “Kazuya is so kind,” Akemi said. “When he finds someone crying, he soothes them by patting their back and sometimes cries with them. I love him so much.”

The two mothers both encouraged their children since they were small to communicate with others and participate in social activities.

“I’ve repeatedly said that disabled people can do things if they try,” Keiko said. “This poster perfectly explains my feelings.”