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Actor works to disable bullying

Glee star attends Down conference

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Lauren Potter takes a moment for photographs with fans and the media at the Delta Winnipeg Hotel Saturday morning as she holds flowers from one of her fans from the audience.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Lauren Potter takes a moment for photographs with fans and the media at the Delta Winnipeg Hotel Saturday morning as she holds flowers from one of her fans from the audience. Photo Store

Lauren Potter, the actor with Down syndrome on the hit TV show Glee, remembers the time two boys bullied her, pushing her down and forcing her to eat sand.

And she remembers forever, as any person would, it was her brother, Blake -- who has a physical disability -- who reached her first and helped her up.

Potter has picked herself up and brushed herself off many times over the years on her way to stardom.

That was the message the actor, who turned 23 on May 10, conveyed in her keynote speech to a very excited crowd at the Canadian Down Syndrome Conference in Winnipeg on Saturday.

"I never gave up my dream," she said in an interview following her speech. "I keep telling myself I'm chasing my dreams and I always go with it."

Her message inspired her audience.

"There's peer recognition there," said Kirk Crowther, Canadian Down Syndrome Society executive director. "People with Down syndrome see another person with Down syndrome and the success she has had. It has a great impact."

In fact, Potter was so overwhelmed by the number of fans wanting to meet her and get her autograph she changed plans to eat out Friday night in Winnipeg, and instead ate back at her hotel.

"It's really shocking for me," she said.

Potter has been acting since she was 16. She also appeared in the movie Mr. Blue Sky.

Did she ever imagine herself on a hit TV show? "Oh my gosh, yes!" she responded. "I just love acting and also I want more roles."

Potter is currently serving as the spokeswoman for AbilityPath.org's "Disable Bullying" campaign and is also working with the Special Olympics on their "Spread the Word to End the 'R' Word" campaign.

"There are some bullies around the world, outside of the school and inside of the school, and I'm doing a campaign to stop the spread of the R word," meaning the derogatory label, "retard."

Crowther said people with disabilities can be easy prey for bullies, but they are being helped immensely by schools adopting zero-tolerance policies on bullying. Campaigns such as Potter's also help.

"Having people like Lauren talk about that is a key. People are starting to realize the damage it's doing to people with disabilities," he said.

As for Potter's success as an actor, that's not a complete surprise, he said. "There's such a connection for people across the board with Down syndrome between music and performance."

Potter's role in Glee "gives people knowledge that she's not that different and that she has abilities."

About 300 people attended this weekend's conference, about a third of them living with Down syndrome.

The conference, which runs from Friday to today, focuses on three groups: medical and support staff; families; and workshops for people with Down syndrome.

bill.redekop@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 19, 2013 A3

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