“Assume That I Can” – Viral Campaign Against the Self-Fulfilling Prophecy of Low Expectations for People With Down Syndrome

By Cátia Malaquias

The long partnership, born in Milan, Italy, more than a decade ago, between Italy’s national Down Syndrome Association, Coordown, and now New York-based creative agency, SMALL, has produced this year’s fantastically engaging, entertaining and mind-opening video campaign for World Down Syndrome Day, 21 March 2024.

The campaign, named “Assume That I Can”, seeks to challenge the low expectations, biases and stereotypes that subconsciously and insidiously operate to deny opportunity, ambition, self-determination and ultimately the fundamental human rights of people with Down syndrome, and disability generally through the ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’ of low expectations that is imposed on them by society.

Coordown’s media release for this year’s campaign explains:

“The self-fulfilling prophecy is a sociological and psychological concept … illustrating how people’s assumptions and expectations affect events to such an extent that the initial prophecy comes true.  These are therefore no mere abstract inconsequential actions, but rather a mental process that is actually conducive to creating a situation that has tangible effects on one’s life and affects social circumstances.”

The  video highlights how people without disability (including pertinently well-meaning and loving parents of people with disability) often have internalised bias and low expectations for people with disability.  The low expectations – ‘lower bar’ – in turn limits the outcomes for people with disability through denial of opportunity and therefore the capacity for them to pursue their aspirations, realise their dreams and live lives of their choosing.  The video seeks to reveal and thereby breakdown societal prejudice – because we can only dismantle something when we are conscious of it.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities effectively describes ‘disability’ not as many would expect – as a physical or mental impairment – but rather in terms of the interaction of an impairment with the person’s environment – in other words, the Convention recognises that the disabling effect – the barriers – of an impairment arise from how a person’s environment, including the people and community around the person and their attitudes and assumptions, respond to the impairment.

The campaign video, in 90 seconds, highlights with brutal directness the effect of low expectations and prejudice on the potential social, educational, employment, independence and lifestyle outcomes of people with disability.  By juxtaposing the situation for the protagonist, a young woman with Down syndrome, of being subjected to limiting assumptions versus no assumptions, the video reveals in the viewer their own low expectation and prejudice.

A common response of non-disabled viewers being that the video really ‘opened their eyes’ and made them rethink their attitudes.  This is exactly what the video is designed to do – and it does it very well.  Please take the time to watch the video – we have no doubt this World Down Syndrome Day campaign will be extremely effective and win many awards.

Congratulations to Coordown Italy and the enduring collaboration between Martina Fuga and the creative team of ‘the two Lucas’ – Luca Lorenzini and Luca Pannese of SMALL on such a fantastic video.  We also wish to recognise Down Syndrome Australia for its long-standing support of Coordown’s World Down Syndrome Day campaigns as a partner and contributor.  But the star of this year’s video is without a doubt the incredible Madison Tevlin who brought all the sass and more. Take a look!

[Cover photo © CoorDown]

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