Promoting Acceptance on the Biggest of Stages



Many of you don't need any introduction to Lauren Potter, the actress who will be our very Special Guest at MDSC's16th Buddy Walk & Family Picnic on Oct. 7. You, and 10 million other viewers each week know Lauren as Becky Jackson, captain of the Cheerios cheerleading squad, on FOX's hit show Glee.

Jane Lynch and Lauren Potter in Glee

According to the storyline, Becky, a 16-year-old sophomore at McKinley High School, longs to be a cheerleader. She tries out, but the coach, Sue Sylvester (played by Jane Lynch), is very tough on her. Becky perseveres.... and makes the squad. Later, it is revealed that Sue's older sister Jean also has Down syndrome.


If you're a Glee fan, you may think that's all you need to know. But there's so much more to know about Lauren Potter, especially if you're part of the Down syndrome community. Television stars, including those with Down syndrome, don't just materialize.  




A Star is Born

Lauren Elizabeth Potter was born May 10, 1990, in Inland Empire, California, and graduated in 2009 from Polytechnic High School in Riverside, California. Since childhood she has been an active member of the Down Syndrome Association of Los Angeles, a nonprofit agency that offers programs, resources, education and counseling.


The association, it just so happens, has an in-house talent agency, Heart and Halo, that casting directors can contact when searching for an actor or actress with Down syndrome.


Lauren's first on-screen role was in the feature film Mr. Blue Sky in 2007, where she played Andra Little, a 10-year-old girl with Down syndrome who falls in love with a typical boy. (The adult Andra Little was played by none other than Ashley Wolfe, a former MDSC board member and current Self-Advocate Advisory Council member).

Glee Happens

When the part of Becky Jackson came up, Glee producers contacted Lauren through Heart and Halo. As her mom, Robin Sinkhorn, recalled to the Press Enterprise of California,  "She and 13 others from various agencies auditioned for the part." Coincidentally, it was not long before auditioning that she had tried out unsuccessfully for cheerleading at her actual high school. But this time she beat out the acting competition to become one of the most famous cheerleaders in history.  


Three years ago, at just 19, Lauren made her Glee debut. The following spring, she returned for two more episodes. Unlike some roles available for people with disabilities, Lauren's Becky tackles complex, real-life issues. She told Disability Scoop in an April 2010 interview about how, in one episode, her character has to grapple with "the whole weight issue." The cheerleading coach, she explains, "is hung up on having skinny cheerleaders," and Becky is the object of Coach Sylvester's derision.

Meteoric Rise to the Top



Lauren's character is so multi-dimensional and her acting so spot-on that there was serious speculation about her being nominated for an Emmy earlier this year. As Entertainment Weekly reported in June, "It's not often that a recurring actor has generated enough buzz to warrant an Emmy nod - but Glee's Lauren Potter may just be the exception."


EW continued, Lauren "enjoyed not one but two big storylines this season. Her first breakout moment occurred in January's episode titled 'Yes/No,' in which Becky sets her sights on Artie (with heartbreaking results). And in the May episode of 'Prom-asaurus,' Puck crowns her queen of the 'anti-prom.'' There was also an episode that included the voiceover talents of Helen Mirren as Becky's alter-ego (see clip above). 



Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

Lauren is not the first actor with Down syndrome to make a splash on television. From 1989 to 1993, Chris Burke (below left) - who, incidentally, started his acting career at the Cardinal Cushing School in Hanover - memorably portrayed Charles "Corky" Thacher on the ABC drama Life Goes On. It was a performance that won him a Golden Globe nomination. In 2002, Andrea Friedman (below right) became the only actor with Down syndrome ever nominated for an Emmy for her portrayal on Law & Order: SVU.

Now, even since Lauren's Glee debut, it's evident that the work of those early pioneers may have paved the way for a very bright future for other actors with Down syndrome. In 2011, two other prime-time TV series featured actors with Down syndrome: Luke Zimmerman (below left) on ABC Family's The Secret Life of the American Teenager; and Jamie Brewer on FX's American Horror Story (below right). But, as EW noted, "Potter, by far, generated the most attention." 

Life Goes On

Like Chris Burke before her, Lauren has chosen to take advantage of her celebrity status to the fullest to make the world a better place. She has become the ultimate self-advocate, acting as a powerful spokesperson for policies that bring equality and justice to people with Down syndrome while enlightening the larger society about the abilities of people with disabilities.

 Lauren Potter - The ABLE Act


When Glee first launched, Lauren served as Grand Marshall of the Riverside Thanksgiving Day parade. Soon after, she started taking public stances on important disability issues. In support of the ABLE Act, a critical piece of federal legislation that would give people with disabilities greater financial independence, she has recorded a Public Service Announcement (see above). On the "Spread the Word to End the Word" campaign, she has tactfully but forcefully used her public platform to talk about how hurtful the R-word has been (and continues to be) in her life and the lives of millions of others with disabilities (see video below with Jane Lynch). Last year, she spoke frankly to People Magazine about the damage caused when kids with special needs are bullied in schools. 


In November 2011, President Barack Obama appointed Lauren to the Presidential Committee for People With Intellectual Disabilities, which advises the White House on how to improve access to schools and jobs for people with disabilities. As her mom puts it, her celebrity "has given her a voice to speak out for people who can't speak out for themselves," and she has used it!


She has even blogged occasionally for the Huffington Post, and starting last fall, she began studying at Irvine Valley College in Irvine, California.


Not Acceptable R-word PSA 

A Game-Changer

Needless to say, we are beside ourselves about having Lauren Potter at our 16th Annual Buddy Walk & Family Picnic Oct. 7. She is an inspiration to so many in our community - parents, sibllings and self-advocates alike, and a game-changing figure for millions of others in the general public who never considered that typical people and people with Down syndrome are, as the saying goes, more alike than different.


So come out to Lake Quannapowitt in Wakefield the first Sunday in October, where you'll be able to hear Lauren speak to the crowd and shake hands. Not only will you yourself promote the acceptance and inclusion of people with Down syndrome, but you'll do it alongside someone who does the same thing every week on the largest stage there is -- network television. And, you might just get to meet her!



A 3-Mile Walk That's So Much More

At our annual Buddy Walk, each step around the beautiful 3-mile route gives hope to new families, provides critical support and resources for other families, teaches educators, policymakers and medical professionals how to best serve people with Down syndrome, and ultimately changes the lives of people with Down syndrome and those who love them. 


October is National Down Syndrome Awareness, so there's no better time to promote acceptance and inclusion for the Down syndrome community than at our 16th Annual Buddy Walk & Family Picnic. Join the excitement and the celebration. 



Get a Photo of Your Loved One on Our 



This year, we continue our Buddy Walk tradition of putting together an "Imagine the Possibilities" banner (below) to line the start of the walk route. 


We invite Buddy Walk Team Captains to submit your photo to be included. Send a high-resolution photo as an attachment by September 14 to Angela Ortiz at

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