“Having Down syndrome makes the world happy,” says Bridget Brown, 32, who wears about five different hats phenomenally well.
The first inclusion student to graduate from Hinsdale South in 2005, she says, “I am passionate about inclusion because I was the first one included in my community and district.”
The best thing about her inclusion experience? “Learning the same things everyone else did and being a full part of the school experience. I am the person I am today because I was included and it scares me to think what my life might look like if I was not included.”
Bridget is a public speaker through Butterflies for Change, an organization founded 15 years ago by Bridget and her mom, Nancy.
She says, “I speak in public schools, districts, and to congregations about inclusion and self-determination—how to use it in a way to be a leader in your own life. When I speak about disability awareness and respect, people need to understand that people with disabilities are here for a purpose and that God made us.”
Bridget has spoken to thousands about “what it is to live a successful life in a community,” and even had a personal audience with the Pope in 2017, when she was invited to Rome to take part in a conference initiated by Pope Francis about the engagement of people with disabilities in the daily pastoral life of the church.
“Meeting the Pope was exciting to me! The most important thing to know is that he has helped with the dignity of people with disabilities,” says Bridget, who delivered two letters when she went, including one she wrote regarding the people of Iceland, where babies with Down syndrome are now killed at a rate of 100 percent, and another from a friend, advocating for the inclusion of children with disabilities in Catholic education.
In her letter about Iceland, Bridget wrote that her heart breaks thinking that she might be among the last generation of people with Down syndrome, noting, “The world will never again benefit from our gifts. I continue to pray for all the people who think we don’t have the right to live.”
When she met the Pope, Bridget says, “He told me that I am a prayer warrior, and asked me to pray for him. I also blessed him, and he blessed me, and then hugged me.”
So how did Bridget go from high school graduate to traveling the world and trading blessings with the Pope?
First came the transition years. She says, “During transition, I attended TCD (The Technology Center of DuPage) and earned a certificate in Early Childhood Education. From there, I got a job working at a pediatric clinic at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where my dad works.
“Now I’m a children’s health educator at the oral health care clinic for dentistry. I take big teeth and toothbrushes around on a cart, and go around to show people about the importance of brushing.”
Over the years, she has also begun to assist the dentists by helping make composites (“I learned how to make a perfect impression model with no bubbles.”), or passing instruments when needed. “Sometimes I also hold the kids’ hands,” she explains, noting, “I take the train, and the el, and bus to work with my dad.”
A pianist who has always enjoyed community theatre and acting, Bridget is a member of the Screen Actors Guild, and says, “Acting helped me get my career, and I love doing it!”
Currently making ready to appear as Mrs. Corey in a performance of Mary Poppins, Jr., by the UPS for DownS Theatre Company in partnership with EGDE Theatre, she’s been featured in an HBO documentary, and has appeared in several movies. “I played a French girl in LOL with Miley Cirus, Douglas Booth, and Demi Moore. That was really cool.”
When asked how she prepares for larger roles, she says, “You have to work really hard. Sometimes we put the songs on the walls in big letters and make the song go the way the music goes. Up when the notes go up, and down when they go down.”
What goals does Bridget have left to fulfill? “My number one goal is to be a leader and to inspire people with disabilities. My dream is to enable the human spirit.”
She’s meeting these goals in variety of ways.
A life-long learner, Bridget has taken many classes at the College of DuPage, and now sits on the advisory board, helping others gain access to classes. “One of my goals is to pass the reading placement test at COD so I can take more classes. I want to take Greek Mythology.”
Bridget is also an active member of the board for the National Association for Down Syndrome, “helping more people with Down syndrome become public speakers.”
Here’s just a bit more from Sam’s interview with Bridget:
Who is your hero? “My hero is not like a Disney hero. My hero is my family. The reason why is that I look up to them for their leadership skills, their social skills, and their smiles. I love having fun with my family. They make me feel like I am at home.”
What makes you happiest? “I am happy when I am with my family, especially when I see my nieces and nephews, and especially my baby nephew because he makes me laugh the way he walks and smiles. My favorite activity is to camp with my family. My most memorable trip was when we went to Colorado to see the Aspen trees and our oldest friend. We stayed in a yurt, and I got to speak at a convention.
If you could do anything, what would you do to make the world more beautiful? “I would give out lots of Diet Pepsi and have a national pajama day with boneless wings. I would also want a world without evil or hate—and with inclusion for all people with disabilities.”
We love your ideas, Bridget! To learn more about Bridget’s visit with the Pope, or about how to book her as a speaker for an upcoming event, please visit her website at: www.butterfliesforchange.org