Personal Story

Feature Issue on Disability Rights, Disability Justice

It’s a Movement Because it Moves You


Claire Toman works in an accessibility office at a global professional services firm, and lives in Evanston, Illinois.

Honestly, I’ve always wanted to be involved in the Disability Rights Movement. The concept of advocacy is so very important to me, as are self-advocacy, acceptance, and growth. In 2021, I was the first person with Down syndrome to graduate from Florida State University, earning a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary social sciences. Today I live independently and work full time at Accenture in downtown Chicago.

I made some TikTok videos that represent some of the things I believe in so passionately. One of them shared some facts about Down syndrome, but the one that went viral was about how I am usually treated when I order a drink in a bar. Obviously, this one was a hit with the adult audience that it targeted, as it made more sense to them than it would to younger kids. Kids usually love my videos more, as I am an example of someone they aspire to be, but I love the traction my videos bring to adults, too, like this one did.

A woman with an employee badge and wearing a gray sweater stands in the atrium of a corporate building.

Claire Toman, on her lunch break in downtown Chicago. Photo by Janet Stewart

I’m 26 years old and old enough to drink, obviously, but people do make the wrong assumptions based on how I look or the fact that having Down syndrome makes me seem younger by comparison. It seems like I wouldn’t be old enough to have a drink, but I am, and I do as I like! So, when I say on the video, “Make it a double,” I’m essentially saying, “Yes! Please fill ‘er up, because this is something I can do.”

I was surprised at how much the video took off. I thought maybe some of the other videos I made might have gotten more traction versus this one. I think this one was something that adults could relate to. Of course, it’s about more than just ordering drinks. When I’ve ordered an upscale steak or piece of fish, I’ve had waiters ask if I wouldn’t rather have grilled cheese. I’ve been given kids menus and crayons many times. This works when my whole family is out, because my sister would eventually order off the kids’ menu as she is an extremely picky eater, but I still get treated like a kid instead of an adult. I think this happens either because I have Down syndrome or because of my height and small features. People just think of me as a young kid instead of an adult woman.

I also advocated for myself at work to become a full-time employee with benefits after starting as a staffing agency placement. Recently, I spoke at a gala to benefit Best Buddies International, the nonprofit organization where I interned last summer, and that helped me get my initial placement with Accenture. I don’t have time for a lot of other advocacy work right now, but I see myself moving in a positive direction, and I hope that people like me will follow in my footsteps and go to college and live and work however, and wherever, they want.

The Disability Rights Movement has improved and strengthened over time. It’s still going, and it’s still important and interesting in the modern age. When I say in the video that it takes a village to change things, it really does, because it’s not just about me. It takes everyone to make things happen. It’s a movement because it moves you.