National Geographic, Down syndrome, and a challenge

One of my friends recently posted an article on Facebook from the Catholic website Aleteia singling out National Geographic for creating and sharing an initiative called “Look at us a little differently” on its Instagram feed. The initiative, which first began in 2016 and is continuing this fall, is a gallery of photos of young people with Down syndrome.

Immediately both pleasantly surprised and intrigued, I picked up my phone to find the gallery of images on National Geographic’s Instagram feed. Phone in hand, I searched the main feed of National Geographic — @natgeo — followed by 94.5 million people. Many beautiful images, but none of young people with Down syndrome. I moved on to National Geographic Travel, followed by 26.8 million people. Also not there. National Geographic Adventure, with 3.7 million followers. Nada.

Noting that the article said the photographs were made by a photographer working for National Geographic Poland, I tried that. Not even one result for the handle. So I tried the vernacular: National Geographic Polska.

Bingo.

On a localized National Geographic Poland Instagram feed with 89,000 followers, I located the images. And they really are lovely. They are a celebration of life, diversity and disability that we don’t often find coming from a mainstream outlet like National Geographic. Perhaps it makes more sense coming from National Geographic Polska, one of the countries in Europe with the strongest Catholic identity.

So while National Geographic Polska is to be praised for launching such an initiative, I can’t help but think that globally National Geographic missed an opportunity to share those images on its more mainstream social media accounts and websites (the images are also on the National Geographic Poland website).

How much more effective could those images have been if they were spread to nearly 100 million people instead of nearly 100,000?

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I found myself thinking, too, about the last time an initiative by National Geographic had caught my eye. It was for its very highly publicized, visible and, yes, controversial, January 2017 cover featuring a transgender girl.

I remember at the time hearing from parents who liked to read National Geographic with their children — and who naturally looked forward to every new issue — about how frustrated they were that not even National Geographic could be a safe refuge from the agenda all too often pushed by our culture.

So, National Geographic, I have a proposal for you: Why not take one of the striking images of children with Down syndrome from National Geographic Polska and feature that on an upcoming cover? That would be giving these brave, beautiful young people the platform they really deserve.

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Gretchen R. Crowe is editor-in-chief of OSV Newsweekly. Follow her on Twitter @GretchenOSV.