'Disney, Make a Down Syndrome Princess': 1 Mom's Fight for Her Daughter

keston ott dahl, andrea, delaney skyeWhen Keston Ott-Dahl walked in on 6-year-old Jules and 15-month-old Delaney watching Frozen, she expected to find her daughters singing, not crying. But the San Francisco Bay area mom's older daughter had a problem: little Delaney, she said through tears, could never be a princess because she has Down syndrome. And so a viral petition was born. 

Keston and Andrea Ott-Dahl have turned to the Internet for support in asking Disney to make a princess with special needs.

The moms were already parents to Jules and now 8-year-old Jared when they decided Andrea would act as a surrogate for another family. When they found out that the child would be born with Down syndrome, the intended parents asked to abort Andrea's pregnancy. Instead, Andrea and Keston chose to carry the baby to term and in July 2013, they welcomed Delaney Skye.

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Now, they are on a mission to bring awareness of Down syndrome to the world and to see their daughter represented on-screen. The couple has started a Care2.org petition to reach out to Disney to create the first-ever character with Down syndrome, in honor of their youngest daughter.

It already has some 50,000 supporters, but they're not done yet.

The Stir chatted with Keston about her journey from ableist to activist, what it would mean for Delaney to see a princess with special needs, and how she's dealt with petition haters calling her daughter a "retard princess":

How did this all come about?
Both of my daughters love Frozen, and Jules watches it with Delaney, who just loves the music. So one day, Jules is sitting there crying and I walked in the room and said, “Jules, what’s wrong?” and she says, “Mommy, Delaney can never be a princess.” And I looked at her and said, “Oh my goodness, of course she can be a princess, silly!” And Jules said, “No, Mommy. There are no princesses like Delaney.” And I walked away and realized that she was right.

I’m an activist in the Down syndrome community too, so it dawned on me that I should do something about this and that I should petition Disney. We’re really big fans of Disney; we have everything Disney. And little kids as they grow up watching Disney movies, they get really great messages through Disney movies: right from wrong, standing up for your family. They teach really great moral lessons.

More from The Stir: Mom Shares Beautiful Journey of Raising a Child With Down Syndrome

For example, I was an ableist. I was a selfish person. I thought people with Down syndrome were inspiration for monster movies. And a higher power believed in me and gave me this opportunity to be a better person, and if Disney had these kinds of characters in their animated features, little children would grow up with compassion, familiarity, and understanding towards kids and people of all abilities. It would eliminate discrimination before it even begins.

When it came to the petition, what was your initial goal?
Andrea and I were like, “maybe we can get 1,000 signatures!” So we put the petition up, and we had 1,000 signatures in an hour. We really have until mid-November to go with it, so we were like, “maybe we can get 10,000 by November!” And we had that in five days.

What has the response been like?
If you look at the petition -- which I do every single day because it gives me hope and encourages me -- there’s really great responses. People are coming out in support of our kids, saying, “Yes! These people have great meaning and a purpose in our society.” But I’m not going to kid you. FOX News did a story on us. and it was reprinted in many different cities. And because we are a lesbian family, people are coming out in droves saying some of the nastiest things to us. I had one guy yesterday send us a hand-drawn picture of a Simpson-like princess and saying, “here’s your retard princess.” I don’t know what their lives are like, but they’re the very reason ... they reiterate to me that I’m doing the right thing. We’re getting it in the hundreds. It’s mostly positive. Unfortunately, when people have something negative to say, they’re more boisterous. I would almost say it’s 50-50.delaney skye

More from The Stir: A Dream for My Daughter With Down Syndrome

What are you hoping for?
I’m hoping that they’ll meet with us and honestly, we’re going to get a big group of people to go down on the 26th of November to Disney’s Burbank studios. I’m going to have my daughters in costumes. We’re going to deliver the petition to whoever will take it. I’m hoping to have a meeting with them and just talk to them about being more proactive. You have kids with Down syndrome in American Horror Story even. You have them in Glee. And they’re not just in commercials. But Disney is really behind the times. And we want them to start being proactive. If it takes small steps, that’s ok.

What would it mean for the family if Disney were to respond?
The world. And not just to Andrea and I. We have thousands and thousands of parents behind us with their kids that are just cheering us on, signing the petition, sharing the petition. Parents are really becoming active. It would mean a lot to millions of people.

Does Delaney know about the petition?
Delaney’s so young, so she doesn't, but this is her legacy. The other kids think it’s amazing and that people are standing up, that we see the wrong and we’re not just sitting down and being quiet about it. We’re going to try to fix it. If you stand up and you talk, you may be drawing negative attention to yourself, but you’re still making change. I’m ashamed that I was an ableist. If I wasn’t willing to pull out my skeletons in my closet, nothing would change. I think we’re being good role models to our kids to show them to stand up, be heard, when something is wrong.

What would it mean to Delaney to see a child like her on the screen?
She would know that there’s a place for her in society. There are so many kids that are so much older than her, that when they saw themselves on Sesame Street [which does have kids with Down syndrome], the kids are just so thrilled that there’s somebody like them.

More from The Stir: 13 Things Never to Say to the Mom of a Child With Down Syndrome

Who's Delaney’s favorite princess?
Oh, Elsa. Both of my daughters are just obsessed. They’re both going to be Elsa for Halloween.

If Disney doesn’t respond, would you still consider this worthwhile?
Of course. A lot of people in the petition were telling me that they didn’t realize that there is truly discrimination against children with Down syndrome. It’s really bringing in awareness, not just to our little parent activist community, but worldwide. I’m getting emails from Israel, Switzerland. I did a radio interview in New Zealand. We’re bringing in awareness worldwide, so no matter what, it’s doing a good job. Because people like Delaney really are the true heroes.

To sign the petition, head on over to Care2.org and leave a message! And learn more about Down syndrome and the family's story at the Delaney Ott-Dahl Foundation.

Would you like to see a character with special needs represented in kids' movies?

 

Images via the Ott-Dahl Family

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