New campaign builds inclusivity by challenging assumptions for World Down Syndrome Day

Assumptions about what people with Down syndrome are capable of are sadly surrounded by negative stereotypes. To challenge this mindset and build true inclusivity, Small has worked with CoorDown on a new campaign for World Down Syndrome Day.

It’s an unfortunate fact that stereotypes, biases, and low expectations still hold back the lives of people with intellectual disabilities. However, with World Down Syndrome Day just around the corner on 21 March, New York-based agency Small has teamed up with CoorDown – the National Coordination of Associations of People with Down Syndrome – to raise awareness of their true abilities.

Titled Assume That I Can, the campaign centres around a short film starring actor, model, and advocate Madison Tevlin as she defies teachers, bartenders and parents to prove that she is capable of far more than they think.

Released to coincide with World Down Syndrome Day, an internationally-observed event which raises awareness of Down syndrome, it aims to help create a culture of diversity. Check it out below.

Inspiring stuff. But that’s not all there is to the campaign. Running with the hashtags #AssumeThatICan #EndTheStereotypes #WorldDownSyndromeDay and #WDSD24 across social media, Assume That I Can also sees the likes of Kim Kardashian and Maria Carey get involved as they satirise people’s expectations of individuals with Down syndrome.

Running from now until 21 March, the campaign will broadcast the real experiences of people with Down syndrome and their families from all over the world. Boosted by the #OfCourse trend, this content shares real experiences of the types of stereotypes experienced by people with Down syndrome and how they have overcome these biases.

While the international campaign started with CoorDown in Italy, it also saw the involvement of several international associations launching the film worldwide simultaneously. These include the Canadian Down Syndrome Society, National Down Syndrome Society, Global Down Syndrome Foundation, Down’s Syndrome Association UK, Down Syndrome Australia and New Zealand Down Syndrome Association, with the participation of members of the Fundació Catalana Síndrome de Down.

As for the video itself, this was inspired in part by the words of Marta Sodano, a 29-year-old Italian woman with Down syndrome, who spoke during the World Down Syndrome Day Conference at the United Nations.

“I discovered that in psychology, there is a concept called self-fulfilling prophecy,” she says. “Whereby a teacher who thinks that a student cannot understand would just act accordingly and therefore they would not teach the student. And there you go: the prophecy self-fulfills.

“But in my opinion, there are no difficult or easy concepts; there is always a simple way to explain things. If I think of all the things that were not explained and taught to me, well, I really get angry.”

Running with these wise words, Assume That I Can visualises these frustrations then turns them upside down halfway through. Star Madison Tevlin demonstrates that she has the ability to order drinks, recite Shakespeare and live on her own, and silences critics in the process.

For CoorDown president Antonella Falugiani, changing the perspective with which people approach disability is the challenge launched by the association for 2024, and represents a new milestone made in its 12 years of commitment to promoting the rights of people with Down syndrome.

“We decided to launch a call to action, which aims to engage the whole society, not just our community because disability really affects everyone, and everyone must be able to act to change the culture that produces discrimination,” she explains.

“With the story of Assume That I Can, we show how each of us can contribute to inclusion by listening and looking at people with Down syndrome and their needs and desires without warped filters. Only in this way can we tear down the walls that still limit the lives of people with intellectual disabilities.”

Karim Bartoletti, partner, MD, and executive producer at Indiana Production, added: “Every year, CoorDown, with their creative and production partners tries to disrupt perception on the world of disabilities with a campaign that can carry the weight of a strong creative insight that can shine a new light on stereotypes and biases that are part of the lives of people with Down syndrome — and all intellectual disabilities as a whole.

“We thought the insight of the campaign was so strong that we adopted it in every aspect of production. ‘You Assume that I will shoot this campaign like any other commercial that deals with disabilities?’ ‘You assume we cannot find an actor or an actress that can carry the weight of the whole film on his or her shoulder?’ ‘You assume we cannot get Rich Lee to direct it and Chris Probst to light it?’ If we want to create awareness and break boundaries through the work that we create and produce, we need to do it ourselves.

“We assumed that we could and we certainly did, because it certainly shows in the originality and power and creative strength of this year’s Coordown World Down Syndrome Day campaign. We are very proud of how the Assume That I Can campaign is unlike anything else we have seen or done before.”

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