This photo of two Arlington teens with Down syndrome will appear on JumboTron screens in Times Square this weekend as part of a visibility campaign for people with the genetic condition.
It depicts Connor Garwood, 18, and his girlfriend Sarah Buzby, 16, at a virtual prom held in the Garwood’s workout room last May. The two met in preschool at Ashlawn Elementary School and have been “inseparable” ever since, said Connor’s mom Suzanne.
She said she submitted the photo of Connor, wearing his dad’s tuxedo and embracing Sarah, because it was sweet.
“Yeah, that picture is cute,” Connor said. “She kissed me.”
The photo, selected from more than 2,100 entries, will be one of 500 in the hour-long presentation this Saturday (Sept. 18).
“Connor and Sarah’s photo will be shown on two JumboTron screens in the heart of Times Square, thanks to the support of ClearChannel Outdoor,” a National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS) press release says.
The video will kick off the Buddy Walk in New York City, hosted by the NDSS, which raises awareness about the disability. The video will also be live-streamed on the society’s Facebook page from 9:30-10:30 a.m. the same day.
“These collective images promote the value, acceptance and inclusion of people with Down syndrome in a very visible way,” said the press release.
The couple’s prom was hosted by Best Buddies, a national organization that matches kids and adults with disabilities with high school and college students without disabilities. The pandemic-era dance gave Connor, now a Yorktown High School graduate, and Buzby, a senior at Washington-Liberty High School, a chance to see each other during the lockdown.
“It was fun. We danced,” said Connor, who then showed off some of his signature moves.
For Connor, being on the Jumbotron means demonstrating that he is a capable adult. This year, he started the Program for Employment Preparedness at Arlington Career Center, which partners with employers and worksites to transition adults with differing abilities to life after school.
“I want people to know that I know stuff,” he said.
Suzanne said the program teaches him “how to ride the ART bus and the Metro and cook and balance a checkbook, which frankly more colleges ought to teach.”
The video and walk also preview Down syndrome Awareness Month in October, a month that Suzanne uses to highlight the challenges of living with or caring for someone with Down syndrome.
“I try to post things… that, if people knew, they could help with advocacy and make changes to the law that would make life easier for our kids,” Suzanne said.
She is watching some bills in Congress right now that could make it possible for people like Connor to earn more than a sub-minimum wage. Additionally, caps on income and assets for those with Down syndrome to access federal programs like Medicaid may disincentivize seeking higher-paying employment, she said.
October is also a time to humanize people with the condition.
“People think people with Down syndrome have X and Y characteristics and I don’t think that’s necessarily true,” she said.
Connor is a social media maven who enjoys exercising, especially kickboxing, saying he could protect Sarah in an altercation with his skills. But in a fight, Sarah would likely utilize her charm and humor.
“She’s cute, kind and funny and she makes jokes and dances with her dolls,” said Connor.
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