‘Assume that I can’ is a cool ad, with a caveat

By Louise Kinross

Every year CoorDown, an Italian group of associations for people with Down syndrome, releases a thought-provoking ad for World Down Syndrome Day.

This year it’s ‘Assume that I can,’ featuring Toronto actor Madison Tevlin. Madison questions the assumptions many hold about people with Down syndrome: That they can’t drink alcohol? That they shouldn’t live alone? That they don’t want to party or have sex? Or learn about Shakespeare? Or become a decent boxer? Or get a job?

The ad, by the agency Small, is about how low expectations become a self-fulfilling prophecy. In the second part of the ad, Madison busts through these stereotypes, drinking a Margarita, moving in to her own apartment, acting in a Shakespearean play, and having sex. She even swears—which she notes is not something people expect her to do. 

The ad pokes fun at the attitudes of bartenders, parents, coaches and teachers. It’s punchy and empowering. 

There’s only one caveat. 

It assumes all people with Down syndrome want a conventional life—and can lead one. Is there anything wrong with a person who doesn’t want, or isn’t able, to pull off a conventional life?

I googled to see what was being said in the media about this ad. I came across this piece in Muse by Clio, the international awards that celebrate excellence in advertising. 

This passage was telling: “By helping folks with Down syndrome grow and experience life, we help them reach their full potential. Otherwise, they’re doomed to sheltered half-lives…”


I think any ad about disability needs to expand our understanding of human value and difference, not just reinforce stereotypes about which lives are worth living.

I’m sure ‘Assume that I can’ will will be a hit with young, non-disabled people. I’m not sure how much those unfamiliar with disability will learn about different ways of being in the world, or why every person has value.

Check out CoorDown’s ad from last year, called: Ridiculous excuses not to be inclusive. This year World Down Syndrome Day is on March 21. Like this story? Sign up for our monthly BLOOM e-letter, follow @LouiseKinross on Twitter, or watch our A Family Like Mine video series.

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