Grace Ryan

Grace Ryan is one of 1,740 participants in programs at GiGi’s Playhouse on Monona Drive. Her father, Patrick Ryan, is president of the board directors for the local Down Syndrome Achievement Center.

Whenever 9-year old Grace Ryan attends a social function, people point to her, wave and enthusiastically say, “That’s Grace!”

She wants to give everyone a hug when she leaves school. When she was recently sick for a week, her entire fourth-grade class sent her get well cards.

Grace, who has Down syndrome, also can swim for hours, loves cheerleading, takes gymnastics classes and participates in the Special Olympics.

“Her skills are social,” said Patrick Ryan, her father. “We can’t focus on what they can’t do but what they can.”

Ryan is one of the 88,000 who have signed an online petition protesting Netflix comedian Tom Segura’s standup show “Disgraceful,” in which he uses the word “retard” and targets those with Down syndrome.

They want the show removed from Netflix.

Representatives from the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County and the Madison Metropolitan School District met Jan. 31 at GiGi’s Playhouse, a Down syndrome Achievement Center, on Monona Drive. They emphasized that using the word “retard” is not acceptable, and talked about community involvement and awareness in protesting Segura’s show.

“Comedian Tom Segura has sparked outrage this week for his blatant, continual use of the R-word in his recent Netflix special,” Nancy Gianni, CEO and founder of GiGi’s Playhouse, said in a released statement. “As a result, intense and hate-filled online bullying from his followers is now being directed at parents and anyone who dare speak out and advocate for their children and loved ones living with Down syndrome. This sparked an outcry for Netflix to cancel the special that they host on their platform.”

In his show, Segura said, “You can’t say retarded anymore.”

He talks about how retarded is more generalized and is used when an idea or situation is dumb.

He then said, “Now you can’t say that. You gotta be like, ‘That’s not smart. Your idea has an extra 21st chromosome, if you ask me.’”

Segura responded to criticism of his show by writing on Instagram, “Hey @netflix please don’t take my special down. That’d be so retarded.”

“That just took it to another level. He really made it personal,” Ryan said. “It is obvious he is not willing to change.”

He said comments like Segura’s undermine the abilities of those with Down syndrome.

“They are more alike everyone else than not,” Ryan said. “There are tools, support and guidance that allow them to help reach their fullest potential.”

People with Down syndrome can do a lot, Ryan said. He emphasized that people with Down syndrome can hold down a job, live on their own and get married.

“We are in a time that we are redefining what people with Down syndrome can do,” said Ryan, who is also board president of the local GiGi’s Playhouse.

According to the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS), the life expectancy for a person with Down Syndrome in 1983 was 25; today, it is 60. Ryan believes this is because of the research, treatment and the support give to them.

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