Down Syndrome Conference Speakers and Sessions


Schedule and Speaker Bios

Click here to view the Schedule, Speaker Bios and more on the app website. You can also download the conference schedule here. You can also download the Canadian Down Syndrome Conference app for the latest updated schedule and speaker announcements!

The app is free on the iTunes store and Google Play store.

Keynote: Joshua Cassidy

Joshua Cassidy is a 3x Paralympian, Boston Marathon Winner (in 2012 recording the World’s Fastest Marathon), multiple Canadian Record Holder, and winner of many medals. Joshua was born November 15th, 1984. He came into the world fighting a non-congenital cancer which primarily effects children, Neuroblastoma. The doctors told his parents that their newborn had a narrow chance of survival. Perhaps through a combination of medicine, family prayer, and a will to live, Joshua won miraculously. The damage done to his spinal cord left his legs partially paralyzed. Where many saw obstacles ahead, this young boy saw opportunities. His perspective has allowed him to build a life of success, love, and happiness.

“As a young boy, I always figured out how to adapt to do whatever I wanted. For me, I see the cancer as a blessing, as it gave me the tools needed to overcome obstacles at an early age. At first it was physical obstacles. I don’t see my disability as an obstacle anymore. I conquered that a long time ago. There are always challenges in life. When we learn to see them as opportunities to learn and grow, life becomes much easier, and fun. That’s why I fell in love with the sport. Opportunities to voluntarily put myself in front of challenges to grow and become more.”

Joshua grew up as the oldest of 10 kids. While he had support from his family, the responsibility of being the eldest meant no time for special treatment. “I was the oldest who took care of my younger brothers and sisters. They didn’t see me as different. With so many people in

the family, we were there for each other but ultimately had to learn how to get what we wanted for ourselves.”

Josh’s early love of sport eventually led to athletics. In 2008 he competed in his first Paralympic Games in Beijing, in front of 90,000 spectators. He has hit over 80kms/hour going downhill at the Tyne Tunnel 2K race.

At the London Marathon in 2010, Josh recorded his first ‘big’ win. It marked the first time he beat all of the best in the world. He has been a Canadian Champion 28 times and is also the Canadian Record holder in the 5000m, 10000m, and Marathon. He’s also won medals at World Championships, Commonwealth Games, and ParaPanAm Games.

Josh’s ‘successes’ have not come without many ‘failures’. His stories of heartbreak and disappointment resonate, and the reminder of how those instances allow us to grow and rise up to something higher, are most inspiring. After a very difficult beginning to his year in 2012, Josh overcame many obstacles he was facing in all areas of his life, and won the prestigious Boston Marathon with an incredible performance, recording the World’s Fastest Marathon time of 1:18:25.

Now a three-timeParalympian, winning many races around the world, Joshua is known internationally for his work ethic and fortitude. He has beaten every competitor in the world at least once. He is currently preparing for his fourth Paralympic Games in Tokyo, to pursue one missing medal- Paralympic Gold.
Josh shares everything he has learned and gives the keys to unlocking each and every person’s unlimited potential by speaking at schools, businesses, governments, and media.

“Training the body and mind to be in their healthiest and most optimum state isn’t only beneficial to Olympians… it is applicable to every person, of every age, and every occupation.”
“There will always be obstacles in life… always challenges. So it’s a matter of how we overcome them. When you can overcome all ‘obstacles’ with such ease… that you don’t notice them as obstacles any longer… only then will they seem to ‘disappear’.”

Through his mindset and incredible accomplishments, he is a true living example of his mottos and creed…

“Anything is possible.”

Check out his website and follow on Insta and Twitter: @joshcassidy84
#yoocandoanything #motivation #athlete #speaker #paralympian #olympian #health #fitness #wellness #gym #track #road #mentalhealth #strength #speed #racing #race #marathon #bostonmarathon #winning #winner #rolemodel #challenge #inspiration #buddhism #mindfulness #Canadian #love #life #stories #peace #wheelchair #disability #healing #meditation #sport #athletics #artist #create #passion #wheelchairracing #wheelchairs

Endnote: Robert Pio Hajjar

Robert Pio Hajjar was born to be a Champion and is dedicated to his calling. A gifted, charismatic speaker, he makes a difference in the world by celebrating life in a way that motivates others to realize their dreams. His dream is of an inclusive society that recognizes the diverse talents and abilities of all members, and values difference as a resource that enriches the whole. He believes love, encouragement and opportunity bring out the best in an individual, which in turn builds a stronger society and a better world.

Travelling widely, Robert Pio spreads his message of hope and inspiration. He has presented “I Can, YOU Can” to more than 450,000 people in 92 cities throughout North America. Listening to him, you understand the importance of making the most of your life, regardless of obstacles imposed by the misinformed. He inspired the I Can, YOU Can Program that is being rolled out by schools in Southwestern Ontario and is quick to point out, “The cards that were dealt to me in life are not as important as how I play them. I love my life.” He plays his hand like a true champion, raising his voice against the injustice of exclusion, advocating for those who cannot speak for themselves.

There have been many remarkable accomplishments along the way. A competitive swimmer with gold medals 2015 and 2016; qualifier Special Olympics 2017 and 2018; Founder of Ideal Way, a charity to help persons differently abled; keynote speaker/emcee at major Conferences throughout Canada and US; Robert’s first book, “I LOVE MY LIFE”, with foreword by the great Jean Vanier is available. More remarkable than his accomplishments, is the person he is.

Robert loves public speaking and starts all such engagements with dance. Dancing, his great sense of humour and his dynamic personality are part of the infectious energy that make his presentations unforgettable and transformational. He takes his calling seriously and implements God’s plan with joy, laughter and love. His deep commitment keeps him out there, raising awareness and showing that inclusion of the differently abled enriches the human experience for us all.

Past Conference Keynote and Endnote Speakers

Year Speaker Role
2017 Elena and Sean Keynote
2017 Jon Jon Rivero Endnote
2016 Kevin Pearce Keynote
2016 Jean-François Martin Endnote
2015 Spencer West Keynote
2015 Celebrating 10 Years of VATTA (self-advocates) Endnote
2015 Tara McCallan, Happy Soul Project Pre-Endnote
2015 Joey Moss (self-advocate) Ambassador
2014 Danny Soucy Keynote
2014 Will Brewer (self-advocate) Pre-Keynote
2014 Donna Thomson Endnote
2013 Lauren Potter (self-advocate) Keynote
2013 Dr. Brian Skotko, M.D., M.P.P. Keynote
2013 Voices At The Table Advocacy Committee and Paul Sawka (self-advocates) Endnote
2012 Joe Dale and Mark Wafer Pre-Keynote
2012 Marlee Matlin Keynote
2012 Dr. Dave Williams Endnote
2011 Tamara Taggart Pre-Keynote
2011 Robert Pio Hajjar (self-advocate) Keynote
2011 Lauren Potter (self-advocate), Blair Williamson (self-advocate), and Gail Williamson Endnote
2010 Karen Gaffney (self-advocate) Pre-Keynote
2010 Rosario Martin Keynote
2010 Alvin Law Endnote