Andrew Start’s journey in policy change is just beginning

A man sits for a portrait
Andrew Start outside his home in Plymouth, Minn., on July 5.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

In celebration of Disability Pride Month, MPR News is featuring stories throughout July about Minnesotans with disabilities who are making an impact. See more at

Twenty-one-year-old Andrew Start is a devoted Twins fan and honorary firefighter for the city of Plymouth. Between volunteering with the fire department, playing on his own baseball team and learning guitar, he has been training to advocate for himself and others with Down syndrome.

The condition occurs in people born with a third copy of the 21st chromosome in their DNA. That’s why the United Nations designated March 21 World Down Syndrome Day to promote the rights of people with Down syndrome.

Start has an advocacy page on Facebook titled “Start Thinking,” where this year he encouraged people to commemorate the day and join a worldwide awareness campaign by “wearing crazy socks.”

During a National Down Syndrome Society advocacy day at the United States Capitol, Start met with U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips and other members of Congress. That’s where his mother, Daonna Depoister, says his interest in advocacy took off.

This year, Start interned in Phillips’ office and graduated from a state program called “Partners in Policymaking” which trains adults with disabilities and guardians of youth with disabilities to talk to elected officials about the issues that impact their lives.

Depoister participated in the program with Start and said it had a noticeable impact on them both.

“It gives you the confidence to be able to speak to people and know that you can influence them in a positive way,” Depoister said.

During the program, she said he used that confidence to speak up for himself during one incident at school. “He was able to actually help people understand that what he wanted, which a lot of people with disabilities don’t get asked these days, because we just assume that we know what's best for them.”

Editor’s note: The following interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Two people walk on a boardwalk
Andrew Start walks with his mom, Daonna Depoister, near their home in Plymouth, Minn., on July 5.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

What he cares about 

Start: I want to be an advocate for people with Down syndrome — myself and others with disabilities. One of the things I’m passionate about is equal access to health care. One of the bills we are supporting is the Charlotte Woodward Organ Transplant Discrimination [Prevention] Act. This is a bill to assure that medical professionals do not discriminate against people with disabilities when it comes to organ transplants.

Who inspires him

Frank Stephens. He is an advocate, actor, athlete and author. He has spoken to Congress and met President Obama. His speech was, “I’m a man with Down syndrome and my life is worth living.”

Frank talks about some of the things that I’m passionate about when it comes to people with disabilities: educate, not isolate; inclusion, not exclusion; celebrated, not terminated.

What he wants his future to look like

I want to go to Bethel University. It has a two-year program where I can go to college, live on campus and have mentors and then can get a certification. I have my own Facebook page called “Start Thinking” to advocate for people with disabilities.

Then I want to be a public speaker. And then I want to have my YouTube channel. I want to have a job that pays me enough to be able to have a good life. I want to buy an engagement ring and get married to my girlfriend. I want to have a family and dogs and pets. And I want to own a house.