Intern Zoë Wallis on How Gender Studies Influences Her Work at DSAGSL


Hi everyone!

My name is Zoë Wallis and I’m one of the spring 2018 interns. I attend University of Missouri-St. Louis (UMSL) and will be graduating in May 2018. (Two months to go!!) I will graduate with a B.A. in Communication and a minor in Gender Studies. I will also receive my Gender Studies certificate. I am a St. Louis native and I am honored and proud to intern here. I truly feel that I am making a positive impact on the Down syndrome community and hope to continue doing so for the duration of my internship.

Since declaring Gender Studies as my minor nearly two years ago, I’ve received many questions about it as an academic discipline. Most of the questions revolve around the idea of “Well, what exactly is it?!” After a laugh, I typically explain that it is a discipline that deals with the intersections of biological sex, gender, ethnicity, and socio-economic class. It also has intersections of (dis)ability.

Basically, Gender Studies focuses on the notion that being a combination of two or more of the aforementioned categories can raise or lower your status in society. This directly relates to a person’s level of privilege. As Gender Studies scholars, we analyze these levels of privilege through feminist theory and literature. We also work to create new scholarship that breaks down stereotypes and barriers and helps to cultivate a more open-minded and inclusive world.

Gender Studies has changed my life. Not only has it helped me to become more culturally aware, it has challenged me personally (and the people around me) to become more inclusive in everyday life. I am much more sensitive about the way I present ideas and make sure to always use person-first language. Working with and for individuals with Down syndrome, I feel this is especially relevant. First and foremost, people are people. As a society, we must work towards always remembering this when we speak. Language is important and when we do not acknowledge individuals as people first, we take away their ability to have likes and dislikes, things they are good at and not so good at, hobbies and interests, etc.

I am lucky to be surrounded by such amazing staff and mentors at DSAGSL who allow me to bring my Gender Studies knowledge into my work here. I am learning so much as I go and I could not be more proud to be able to represent the Down syndrome community in my work!

Happy World Down Syndrome Day from Grace!

To wrap up the 21 Days of Abilities campaign, we sat down to talk with Grace Mehan. Grace is a long-time DSAGSL volunteer and participates in tons of activities in her hometown of Kirkwood. Check out more of what Grace has to say!

Hi! My name is Grace and I want to say Happy World Down Syndrome Day! For this awesome day, I wanted to share some special things about me.

I work at Irene’s Homemade Granola, and at Mike Duffy’s and Kirkwood Brewing Station as a host. When I’m not working, I like to volunteer with the DSAGSL. I’m in a reading group, play basketball in the Special Olympics, and practice Tae Kwon Do with the Girlfriends Group. I love being a part of the Kirkwood community!

Grace having fun at a cooking class

Some things I like to do when I’m not working include working out, playing Just Dance for Wii, and watching “Chopped.” My favorite hobby is cooking healthy foods. I love it so much, I want to have my own cooking show! I speak Spanish and help kids learn sign language. I also love music, and I recently went to concerts with artists like Adam Levine and Panatonix!

For me, being a self-advocate means stepping up for yourself and being responsible. It’s important to talk to people about Down syndrome and what it really means. I love being around children, so volunteering at the New Mother’s Luncheon is a lot of fun. I like to go to presentations with DSAGSL and

Grace helping out at the New Mother’s Luncheon!

talk to elementary school kids about Down syndrome. It’s fun to teach them about Down syndrome. It helps them to be better friends and learn how to respect everyone, including people with Down syndrome.

Three words I would use to describe myself are: talkative, friendly, and curious! Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed learning more about me!

Ready to Work Q&A!

Employment Coordinator Makini Anwisyi with Employment Academy participant Aaron Alster

Research shows hiring people with disabilities makes good business sense. Employees with disabilities are more productive, have lower absenteeism and stay in their job longer than their peers without disabilities.

The DSAGSL Ready to Work Initiative is dedicated to building relationships with companies and businesses in St. Louis, to raise awareness about why hiring individuals with Down syndrome makes sense for them and their community.  Additionally, the Ready to Work programs like the Employment Academy, Jr. Academy, Pop-Up Snack Shop, and DSAGSL Office Internship Program, work with self-advocates to explore their interests, build job skills, create written and visual resumes, and find meaningful employment.

Individuals with Down syndrome want to work and feel fulfilled in their jobs for the same reasons everyone does! Just ask the participants at our recent Employment Academy Class:

Q: What do you like about this class?

A: Being around people and making new friends –

A big thanks to the awesome group that attended the recent Employment Academy class!

Andrew Suelmann, age 32

Q: What have you learned?

A: I learned about different jobs, people, and I learned that I want to work at Applebee’s and at a hospital! – Aaron Alsterer, age 29

Q: Why do you want to get a job?

A: To get money! – Christine, age 21

A: To be friendly, work, and learn skills. – Seth Kilnzey, age 20

Q: What type of job do you want?

A: Work for NCIS – Leah Hammann, age 22

A: Work as a babysitter with kids – Naddie, age 20

Q: What would you like to buy/do with the money you’ll earn?

A: Save money for college – Leah

A: Big house (with my own restroom) – Christine

A: Clothes, new guitar case, guitar pick – Aaron

A: New apartment, video games, go to the movies, go out to eat with friends – Andrew

If you would like more information about hiring awesome and hard-working individuals with disabilities, please contact Erin Suelmann at or Makini Anwisye at You can also learn more on our website!


Letter from Self-Advocate Paula Mass

Paula (on the right) with her friend Suzie in Washington DC for 2017 NDSS Buddy Walk

March 14th is Disability Rights Legislative Day. It is a day to advocate for equal rights to individuals of all abilities, and gives individuals with developmental disabilities the opportunity to voice their needs and wants. Paula, one of our self-advocates, wrote a letter about how she has found her voice while interning with DSAGSL for more than five years. We hope her inspiring words encourage others to be confident in advocating for themselves!

“My name is Paula Mass and I have been a DSAGSL office intern since 2013. Since coming to work here as an intern, I have learned to be a better self-advocate.  I went to the state Capitol last year to be an advocate and to Washington D.C. I am also now on the DSA Board of Directors!

I work at the DSA Office on Mondays. I am usually there from 9:00-4:45.  I do many things when I am at the office. I help with the mailings that go out, I get the mail when it comes in and pass it out, I work on the birthday cards that go to all of the members, and any other things that I am asked to do. I like being an intern at the DSA.  I remember when I was asked to be an intern at the office. I was more than thrilled to become a part of the DSA team.
This job has helped me to be a better self-advocate. I did not know what a self-advocate was at first. I was sort of stuck in my own ways before, but I had to move past that. The more I learned about how to talk to people who came into the office, even though I was scared, it helped turn my attitude around. It wasn’t easy at first, but everyone at the office was patient with me. I guess I was shy.
Later, I was asked to be on the Board of Directors for the DSAGSL. My father talked to me about having a spot of the board as a self-advocate and he told me what that would mean. That meant that I would have to speak up even more. I was scared again, but I gave it a try.
I speak up more now than I ever did. I speak up about things that are important to me. I also speak up about things that are Down syndrome. I speak up for my friends and family if I need to. I am a self-advocate and I am proud of it. Just think, this all came from becoming an intern here at the Down Syndrome Association Office.”

Paula (front center in purple) with group in Jefferson City, MO for Disability Rights Legislative Day 2017