Ruth Faragher is your typical 18-year-old. She likes hanging out in Civic, going shopping with her friends and spending afternoons at Big Splash in Jamieson in the summer.
She’s thinking about studying to become a childcare worker once she’s finished school at Merici College, keen to make her own way in the world.
Ruth has Down Syndrome, one of the estimated 260 people in Canberra who do.
Not that she’s ever let that hold her back. She’s been asked to speak at several international conferences and received a commendation at the 2013 Chief Minister’s Inclusion Awards as one of the territory’s emerging young leaders.
Her mother Rhonda Faragher laughs, a hearty raucous laugh, when asked if she worries about Ruth.
“Oh my goodness, no,” she says. “She’s so competent, I’m not worried at all.”
Dr Faragher is the chairwoman of the Asia-Pacific Down Syndrome Federation. She put their representative in Thailand in touch with Hands Across the Water, the charity raising money for baby Gammy, to support the family in ensuring the best medical choices are made.
She says the case has highlighted the barriers that people with Down syndrome face, with low expectations and a lack of understanding about the condition making mainstream acceptance harder.
“The story has moved beyond the Down syndrome angle in many regards,” says Dr Faragher, “but from our perspective now, it’s about the low expectations people have of someone with Down syndrome.”
Dr Faragher is the deputy head of the school of education at the Australian Catholic University in Watson. She is a world leader in teaching mathematics to children with Down syndrome and a strong advocate for their inclusion into mainstream education.
With two older sons, Luke, 23, and Paul, 20, Dr Faragher is honest enough to admit she was sad when Ruth was born.
“But not because I thought my life would be terrible but because I then thought the world was not a nice place for people with disabilities.
“But boy was I wrong. Life for Ruth has been an absolute joy. We have travelled the world, we have met so many wonderful people.
“Even now, when you’ve got a teenager who likes to be with mum and dad, it’s just gorgeous, she enjoys our company and we enjoy hers.
“She wants to move into a share house and we’re going to miss her when she does. She intends to go off to do childcare, and has every chance to do that, get a share house with her friends, not a group home situation but her own place with her own friends.”
Dr Faragher says it’s sad that there was some chance Gammy was abandoned because he had Down syndrome.
“To think you could abandon a child … it used to be families would leave them in institutions, or the option given now is abortion, or in this case, which thankfully seems to be quite rare, leave them behind in another country ... it’s too shocking to think about.
“I look at Ruth and think about the joy that a child can bring, any child, and I just can’t understand it.”