Adults with DS Make Their Mark: A Report from the NDSC Convention

By Yvonne Cotto

This year’s National Down Syndrome Congress (NDSC) convention was held on July 21-24 in Orlando, Florida. This was my second time attending the annual conference so while I was looking forward to seeing familiar speakers like Dr. Libby Kumin and Terri Couwenhoven, I was also eager to see what new and emerging trends I would find. The disabilities world is currently experiencing a wave of public awareness, policy changes, and technology and business innovation. A forum like the NDSC convention is the perfect place to feature some of these changes.

Just for You CardArt makes custom greeting cards.

Just for You CardArt makes custom greeting cards.

One major highlight was the presence of the Born This Way cast. There were the scheduled appearances such as the panel presentation and the autograph signing session, where the line went out the door and around the corner. The cast members, especially John, seemed to be ubiquitous during the convention and were constantly being asked to take selfies with yet another fan.

But what piqued my interest was visiting exhibition booths with products made and sold by people with Down syndrome and seeing a workshop on self-employment and micro entrepreneurship. As defined by Investopedia.com, A microenterprise “will usually operate with fewer than 10 people and is started with a small amount of capital. Most microenterprises specialize in providing goods or services for their local areas."

Down Right Charming features colorful collection of custom quilts and creations designed by Sarah Ellen Ely.

Down Right Charming features colorful collection of custom quilts and creations designed by Sarah Ellen Ely.

Indeed, many exhibitors I visited fit the microenterprise definition. Their products ranged from photographs and jewelry, to glassware and quilts. I was able to meet the creators behind the beautiful products and talk to the family members who supported the artists in their work. Some artists, like Sarah of Down Right Charming, started their business because their parents were already in the industry but others, like Gabe of Gabe’s Glass Creations, began out of pure curiosity. What they all have in common is that they have a sense of purpose in their daily lives and a creative outlet making beautiful products.

Gabe's Glass Creations makes fused glass art in forms of crosses, dishes, jewelry, sun catchers, coasters and more.

Gabe's Glass Creations makes fused glass art in forms of crosses, dishes, jewelry, sun catchers, coasters and more.

I am providing here a partial list of microenterprise exhibitors at the NDSC conference. I purchased from many of them, because their products make great gifts for school teachers, coworkers, friends, and family members and I was happy to support these talented artists. Learn more about small businesses owned by people with Down syndrome.
 
Microenterprises:
Kelderman Klassy Glass is a microenterprise of Kailin Kelderman. Based in Reno, NV.  Kailin creates fused glass jewelry. Check out her art work on her FB page “Kelderman Klassy Glass” and her website www.kkglassart.com.
 
Down Right Charming features colorful collection of custom quilts and creations designed by Sarah Ellen Ely. Sarah stitched her first pillow to send to her friend who was in the hospital waiting for a bone marrow transplant. Today she continues to make pillowcases, along with volunteers, in Sarah's Sewcial Lounge, located within JEllens house of fabric in Cleveland, OH. You can purchase her products on Etsy.com and visit her blog: www.sarahely8989.blogspot.com
 
Just for You CardArt makes custom greeting cards. Business partners Donna and Jenna are best friends. When they were young, they helped Donna’s mother make her custom greeting cards. They started their business six years ago and their work has been featured in the Washington Post.
 
Gabe's Glass Creations makes fused glass art in forms of crosses, dishes, jewelry, sun catchers, coasters and more. Gabe Silva learned about glass fusing while attending a program in New Mexico, where he lives. He brings his unique perspective to piece of artwork, often using themes on his favorite movies, music, and people.