Film featuring Scots twins looks to change people’s outdated employment attitudes on Down's syndrome

The Scottish mother of identical twin boys who both have Down’s syndrome says she hopes having them star in a national film about employment will change people’s outdated attitudes.

The twins star in the new film. Picture: DSA

Elaine Scougal’s six-year-old boys Ollie and Cameron feature in the film which sees them ‘testing out’ jobs at the fire service, a café, hairdressers and supermarket in a bid to promote the message that children with Down’s syndrome should grow up expecting to be employed and spoken to about what they might like to do from an early age by parents, teachers and others.

She said: “I hope that the film helps employers to think about people with Down’s syndrome as potential employees, people with hopes, dreams and ability. I also hope that it encourages parents to talk about employment opportunities with their children so that they have a presumption of seeking employment when the time comes.”

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Produced by the Down’s Syndrome Association (DSA) for their employment programme WorkFit, the video is aimed at raising awareness of the scheme which brings together employers and job seekers who have Down’s syndrome and is a tailored service dedicated to training employers about the learning profile of people who have Down’s syndrome so that they can be supported in the workplace.

The DSA said that videos like these are needed to help improve matters, with statistics showing that nationally, just 5.9 per cent of people with a learning disability are in paid employment in England, which is a downward trend year-on-year.

Elaine explained that there a lot of outdated perceptions about Down's syndrome and learning disabilities, in general, which she believes are a barrier to people getting jobs, she said: "There's an assumption by many that people with Down’s syndrome don't have the competence or ability to work and that a voluntary role is more suitable if anything.

"It's about creating the ethos of seeing each employee as an individual, not as a condition or disability, and evaluating how their individual needs can be met within any employment context. That takes an open mind, but I believe, slowly, more minds are opening to employing people with disabilities and tailoring training to meet needs.”

Ollie and Cameron have become internet sensations since Elaine set up a Facebook page when they were just weeks old. It now has more than 200,000 followers who enjoy watching videos of the boys and reading about their latest updates.

The pair try out being firemen. Picture: DSA

Explaining why she set up the page, the Dundee mother said: “After a few weeks of hearing some stereotyped views and pitying reactions to Cam and Ollie's diagnosis after birth, we decided we wanted to spread the word that our children were children, not defined by their chromosome counts.

"We set up the Facebook page and it took off so quickly, I think due to identical twins with Down’s syndrome being quite rare, occurring at a rate of about one or two in a million births.

"Through the page, we have documented their journey as they've grown from three weeks old to nearly seven years old now through videos, photographs and stories. We get messages regularly stating that the page has opened their eyes about Down’s syndrome in terms of rebutting stereotypes they might have held. Some people also comment that they were very aware that the boys had Down’s syndrome when they first started following but now they've forgotten. That's a big thing - that the diagnosis just fades into the background and people just see them for who they are, Ollie and Cam. That's what we hoped for.”

Alison Thwaite, employment and development manager at WorkFit, hopes that the new film will encourage more businesses to consider signing up to the programme, she said: “The film aims to promote a ‘presumption of employment’, where children who have Down’s syndrome grow up expecting to be employed and are spoken to about what they might like to do from an early age.

The twins with their parents. Picture: DSA

"They can then incorporate their career goals into their education and, when they’re ready to transition to employment, come to WorkFit with ideas of what they would like to do. We also hope the film encourages more potential employers to consider signing up to WorkFit. All of our support is free of charge and without obligation and continues as long as the person who has Down’s syndrome is employed.”

• To find out more about the work of the DSA visit the website www.downs-syndrome.org.uk

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