Karen’s Bio

Karen Gaffney is President of a nonprofit organization dedicated to championing the journey to full inclusion in families, schools, the workplace and the community for people with intellectual disabilities. She is doing this by creating awareness and calling attention to the tremendous capabilities of people with disabilities. Karen accomplishes this through presentations and workshops delivered to audiences all over the country.

In addition to her nonprofit work, Karen also works part time in a law firm in Portland, Oregon where she lives.

Karen graduated from St. Mary’s Academy in Portland, Oregon, earning a regular high school diploma and also earned a two-year Associates of Science degree from Portland Community College.

Karen travels the country and the world, speaking to a wide range of audiences about overcoming limitations and about what can be accomplished with positive expectations. Karen also advocates for physical fitness and regular exercise and healthy nutrition as well. She is the first person with Down syndrome to deliver a TED Talk. She presented to one of the largest TEDx venues in the world in Portland, Oregon in 2015. Karen has spoken to audiences in Ireland, England, Norway, Singapore, Malaysia, Trinidad and Tobago, Canada as well as the US.

She always helps her audiences understand that Down syndrome IS a life worth living! She is an outspoken advocate for on going medical research aimed at improving the lives of those who are living with Down syndrome.

Karen has received numerous awards and recognition for the work that she does, including an honorary doctorate degree from the University of Portland, induction into the CYO Athletic Hall of Fame in Portland, Oregon, and the Quincy Jones Exceptional Advocacy Award from the Global Down Syndrome Foundation in Denver Colorado.

In her free time, Karen is a swimmer. She is a long distance open water swimmer with some incredible achievements to her name: a relay swim across the English Channel, a 9 mile solo swim across the width of Lake Tahoe, an 8.5 mile swim across Lake Champlain, and a 5 mile swim from Molokini to Wailea Beach in Maui, Hawaii, just to name a few. All of her swims are fundraising swims, and swims to raise awareness about what people with Down syndrome
CAN do! She regularly swims two miles every day before work, and does open water swims whenever she can.

Karen tackles any challenge she faces with determination and commitment, knowing she has limits, but not allowing them to limit her drive to succeed. She describes her life as a “Journey of Hope” while she calls attention to the tremendous accomplishments of people living with Down syndrome all over the world.

Karen’s messages provide awareness, recognition and inspiration that Down syndrome is a Life Worth Living!