Success Stories in the IDD Community

Success Stories in the IDD Community: Li Xiang

Li Xiang is a chinese special olympic athlete. His whole life, he has been breaking down barriers for people with disabilities in China. Chinese people face high levels of stigma if they have a disability from the moment they are diagnosed. His parents were shocked when they originally got his diagnoses of Down syndrome because people with disabilities are not seen as equal in China. 

Source: https://dotorg.brightspotcdn.com/dims4/default/3bf53d2/2147483647/strip/true/crop/1667×1667+417+0/resize/1200×1200!/quality/90/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fsoi-brightspot.s3.amazonaws.com%2Fdotorg%2Fd1%2Ff7%2Fc6b602984be8b8245505d9e1a7d9%2Fli-ziang-medal.jpeg

They nurtured Li Xiang and loved him, ignoring the stigma that people with disabilities receive. They eventually noticed that he had exceptional athletic abilities. Xiang found a passion for sports when an Olympic gymnast visited his school. He worked very hard to excel in sports. At first, he struggled because of his coordination as well as balance. He practiced a lot and eventually overcame his struggles. Xiang also did not like to fail and would allow himself to get discouraged because of it. Although he did not like to fail, he kept trying over and over again until he got it right. His coaches and parents encouraged him to get back up again any time he was knocked down. Luckily, he listened. 

Special Olympics

He competed for the first time in the Special Olympics when he was only 11 years old in 2015. He competed in artistic gymnastics and took home five medals. The medals included one gold, two silver, and two bronze. After turning 13, he competed in the Special Olympics once more. This time, he competed in the event of speed skating. 

Li Xiang competed in gymnastics in the 2019 Special Olympic Games in Abu Dhabi. He took home two gold medals, four silver medals, and one bronze medal. Li Xiang helped to change the view on people with disabilities in China. He has proven that he is able to work hard for his dreams and accomplish anything he puts his mind to. Li Xiang will most likely participate in sports for many years to come because they make him happy and feel energetic. 


Success Stories in the IDD Community

Success Stories in the IDD Community: Madeline Stuart

Madeline Stuart was born on November 13, 1996. She is seen as the first professional model with Down syndrome. She was born in Australia. Stuart has participated in many fashion weeks all around the world. Some of these include Paris Fashion Week, New York Fashion Week, London Fashion Week, Runway Dubia, Russian Fashion Week, Fashion Week China, and more. 

Modeling Beginning

Her modeling aspirations began in 2014. Her mother took her to a fashion show in Brisbane, Australia. After attending the event, she decided she wanted to be involved in modeling. Her mother jump started her career when she decided to create an online campaign for Stuart in 2015. The goal of the campaign was to secure a modeling contract for Stuart. Her campaign gained traction and Stuart became popular online. This led to her signing two modeling contracts, one with a fitness brand and one with a handbag brand. She also began doing bridal photoshoots.


Madeline Stuart eventually launched her own fashion label, 21 Reasons Why by Madeline Staurt. She debuted her label at the New York Fashion Week. Although Stuart has found much success in modeling, her life was not always easy. When she was ten days old, she went into heart failure and had to have surgery. Medical professionals assured her mother that her life would be nothing but difficult because of her medical challenges. Madeline’s mother was determined to make her life as fulfilling as possible. Throughout her life, Madeline also struggled with her weight. In an effort to become a model, she lost 44 pounds. She posted a photo of her before and after weight loss and went viral online. 


Stuart is not only a model, but an advocate for people with disabilities and diversity. She has accepted many awards for her advocacy. An example of that is the Quincy Jones Exceptional Advocacy Award from Global Down Syndrome that she received in 2018. She is also a  brand ambassador for Australian Foundation for Disability

Madeline Stuart has broken down many barriers for people with disabilities because of her successes. She became the first professional model with Down syndrome and advocates for people with disabilities and diversity. 

Independent Wedding Shoot

Independent Fashion Week


Madeline Stuart Model 

Success Stories in the IDD Community

Success Stories in the IDD Community: Judith Scott

source: https://art21.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/scott-judith-bio-001-16×9-1400×788.jpg

On May 1st, 1943, Judith Scott was born in Cincinnati, Ohio. Her twin sister, Joyce, was also born that day. One big difference between them was that Judith Scott was born with Down syndrome and her sister, Joyce, was not. Soon after they were born, Judith developed scarlett fever which took away her ability to hear. Her family did not realize that for many years. 

Early Life

Judith Scott lived at home for the first seven and a half years of her life. When it was time for her and her twin sister to go to school, the public school would not accept her into their class for children with disabilities because she was non verbal. She was nonverbal because of her deafness, but no one knew she was deaf at the time. Medical professionals advised her parents to place Judith in an institution for people with mental disabilities. In October of 1950, Judith was sent to live at the Columbus State Institution (then called the Columbus State School). 


This new living arrangement separated Judith and her twin and both children suffered negative consequences. Judith then began to have behavioral problems because of her isolation. The institution would not allow Judith any training because of her low IQ scores. The school still was not aware that she was deaf. 

Soon after these problems started, she was transferred to a different institution in Ohio. Many years went by and in 1985, her sister, Joyce, became her legal guardian after legal battles. Judith moved to California with her sister Joyce. California law stated that all mentally disabled people deserve an ongoing education. 


Her art journey began in 1987 when she attended the Creative Growth Art Center. Judith found passion in fiber art and began creating pieces. She used fibers to create sculptures, unlike any art that was seen before. Her art became her main focus and she created art every week day for the next 18 years of her life. In that time period, she created over 200 sculptures. Worldwide recognition was gained for her in 1999 when her work was showcased at an exhibition. 

source: https://www.outsiderartnow.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/fiber_scott.jpg

Judith Scott passed away at the age of 62 in her sister’s home. Her art can be seen in popular museums such as MOMA and the American Visionary Museum


SF Gate

women making dough on chopping board on table
Success Stories in the IDD Community

Success Stories in the IDD Community: Collette Divitto

Collette Divitto is an accomplished baker. She was born with Down syndrome and decided to open her own bakery at the age of 26. Her bakery dreams became a reality because she felt defeated applying for jobs because no one seemed to want to hire her. She decided to take her fate into her own hands and be her own boss by opening her own business. 

Source: https://kompletecare.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/homebanner-v8-scaled.jpg
Early Life

Divitto grew up in Connecticut. She struggled with making friends as she got older and entered high school. Her life had entered a dark period, but she was determined to make a change. She applied and was accepted to Clemson University’s LIFE program. Divitto excelled in the program and graduated an entire year early. After graduation, she relocated to Boston, Massachusetts and had hopes of getting a job and supporting herself. Unfortunately, she felt as if the world could not see past her disability and no one hired her. When her job interviews did not go as planned, she came up with a different plan. 

First Steps 

Her dream slowly turned into a reality because she kept trying despite the rejection she faced. Her first step was asking a local grocery store if they would sell her delicious cinnamon chocolate chip cookies in 2016. The store agreed and from there, her bakery was born. 

Her business boomed and thousands of orders come every week for her famous cookies. 15 employees work for the bakery as well as two interns. The cookies can be found in stores in California, Massachusetts, and Connecticut or ordered online for shipping. Divitto not only bakes the cookies, but takes care of packaging, hiring, shipping, and other aspects of the business. 

Source: https://img.theepochtimes.com/assets/uploads/2020/07/22/ET-cookies1.jpg

Her next goal is to partner with the popular ice cream company, Ben & Jerry’s because she would like her cookie to be available in stores nationwide. She would like them to offer a flavor of ice cream with her cookie inside of it. 

Collette Divito has made her family proud and been an inspiration to people everywhere to follow their dreams and focus on their skills, not their disadvantages. Because of her determination, people everywhere get to enjoy her scrumptious treats. 

Check out her website here. They offer dog treats as well! 



Collette Bakery


Success Stories in the IDD Community

Success Stories in the IDD Community: Marty Sheets

Early Life

Marty Sheets began his life in 1953 by being born prematurely. The first 15 days of his life were spent in an incubator and soon after that, he was diagnosed with Down syndrome. From a young age, his parents encouraged him to interact with the world to practice his social skills and taught him to be the best he could be. This eventually led him to become a decorated Special Olympic Athlete. 

Athletic Journey

His athletic journey began as a child when he discovered a love for swimming in the pool and waterskiing. As a child, he attended Greensborough Public School. Sheets wrestled for the middle school and was a part of the distributive education program at his high school. At age 15, he began participating in activities designed for intellectually challenged youths. In this program, he stood out for his talents in swimming. In 1968, he was selected to participate in the first International Special Olympics Competition. Sheets was unable to compete because of a brief illness. Although, he was awarded a Gold Medal at the event banquet. This was only the beginning of his Olympic journey. After that, he competed in many other Special Olympic Games.

Sheets ended his athletic career with over 250 Special Olympic medals. He was a multisport athlete competing in events such as golf, tennis skills, skiing, swimming, and powerlifting. Sheets competed in Steamboat Springs, Colorado in the skiing event in 1977. He took home a pair of bronze medals. 


Because of his successes, he was able to meet multiple celebrities and public figures during his athletic career. Some of these include Billy Kidd, John Denver, Arthur Ashe, Evander Holyfield, President Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Grant Hill, and Gary Player. He became a member of the Special Olympic North American Golf Committee because golf became his favorite sport. While on the committee, he helped to recruit volunteers, traveled the country, and represented the Special Olympics. 

He was selected as an official torch-bearer for the 1996 Olympic games in Atlanta. He has won many awards including the Distinguished Citizen Award from the N.C. Employment Network of the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services and the national Volunteer of the Year Award from the PGA Tour. Sheets passed away at age 62 in 2015. We will remember his legacy. 


LA Times