Having a cousin that has Down syndrome gives me a whole new view on life. It has taught me that I need to be thankful for my life, body and mind and to count the blessings that I have. Growing up as what is considered a "different" child, my cousin, Nicole Stachiw was really not different. She had goals, dreams, aspirations and visions of success and excellence. Achieving those goals is just more difficult for her than most people. Nicole may not have the intellectual capacity to have a conventional career in corporate America, but what she does have is a heart of gold. There is no difference between her and everyone else in her being, soul or spirit. People with Down syndrome are just people that have a voice like you. There is a lack of understanding as to what Down syndrome really is and this creates ignorance. I have seen and heard people make fun of individuals with Down syndrome, calling them a retard or retarded. I have also seen people making hand gestures and talking with slurred speech. It seems like a trendy thing these days to use these words so casually. I am sure the person using these words out of context does not have a close relative with Down syndrome, because if they did, I guarantee they would not be using them. If you use those words to call people names or just out of context, PLEASE stop doing that. It is not only ignorant to use those words, but it is completely disrespectful. If you hear your friends, family or teenage children throwing that word around, please have a talk with them educating them on the actual meaning of that word. I know some people are uninformed about Down syndrome and do not know they are being offensive, but this is exactly why a little awareness goes a long way. I have participated in some of the outings with my cousin Nicole and her friends at the Down syndrome awareness center, Gigis Playhouse. It has always been a great experience getting to know them. They are people just like you and me. The only difference is that they may have a difficult time with things that we can do with no complications. This does not mean we should treat them like they are stupid or avoid them like they are contagious. They are some of the most beautiful souls I have ever met. In fact, my cousin and her friends have more compassion, love, and acceptance than most so-called "normal" people. Nicole and all of her friends worldwide have one thing in common; they all have a voice. All they are asking is for you to listen.