Have you ever met or chatted with someone with Down Syndrome? Some of you might have heard about it in the “Quadruple test” during pregnancy or (hopefully) noticed a ‘different’ child in your society or market. How did you feel for her?

Have you met any parent who was just blessed with a child with Down Syndrome? What was your reaction? Even if you haven’t, imagine a situation like this. What would you do the moment you met his parents? How would you wish them?

If you are like most of the others, along with pity, “Sorry” or “it’s ok” would most likely be the response of consolation.

When a baby is born parents are usually showered with oohs, aahs, and congratulations. The last thing most people would say to a new parent is “sorry.” Yet this is exactly what many parents with a newborn with Down syndrome hear from friends, family, and even their doctors. Already heartbroken, ‘sorry’ offers more heartbreak. So what should well-wishers say? Literally, the only bad word is the ‘S’ word.

This is the point being made in an overwhelming campaign Anything but sorry – Every child deserves a warm welcome, and Why Sorry is a bad word.

Made by FCB for CDSS (The Canadian Down Syndrome Society ), a non-profit organization that provides Down syndrome advocacy in Canada. Since 1987, CDSS is Canada’s voice for the Down syndrome community. Their goal – to ensure all people with Down syndrome live fulfilled lives. They want all Canadians to #SeeTheAbility.

One of the recent innovations that CDSS has undertaken is to partner with Google to train its AI to listen to people with Down Syndrome as well.

Project understood – donate your voice to Google – how Google AI is being trained by people with Down Syndrome themselves! Really empowering. The most inspiring line for me in this campaign was

I might sound different from others, but I still have a lot to say

Do take out 5 minutes to watch these videos – Both of them will most likely move you! Commendable work by FCB Canada!

Closer Home
Surprisingly, while Canada has roughly 45000 people with Down Syndrome, India has almost 32,000 children being born with Down Syndrome (DS) every year!

But while Canada is known for its inclusivity, India is known to be tougher for ‘minorities’ – even though the scale is far higher, people with Down Syndrome can face severe hardships and poor treatment from a society that often misunderstands their affliction.

However, there are initiatives being taken in India as well to be more inclusive. One such body is the Down Syndrome Federation of India (DSFI). The organization has the vision to educate people on what it takes to create a kinder, more aware, and inclusive society for the differently-abled.

To drive awareness, DSFI partnered with Curley Street to create a film in 2012, Indelible – a film about seven individuals living with Down Syndrome in India – a simple shot to break the stereotypes we associate with the syndrome!

Incidentally, when you compare the quality of the site, the content, and the campaigns, you realized that we still have some room for improvement. Assuming these are a reflection of the importance we give to this cause, maybe there is scope for us as marketers!

Er..what exactly is Down Syndrome

While I won’t go down to publishing a research paper on DS (even though I have learned a lot about it in the past few days), here is a 1-minute snapshot for the uninitiated.
Down syndrome is a condition in which a child is born with an extra copy of their 21st chromosome (trisomy 21). This causes physical and mental developmental delays and disabilities. Many of the disabilities are lifelong, and they can also shorten life expectancy.

However, people with Down syndrome can live healthy and fulfilling lives. Recent medical advances, as well as cultural and institutional support for people with Down syndrome and their families, provides many opportunities to help overcome the challenges of this condition. People with Down Syndrome are Good for business, good for the community and good for the children (Ted Talk)

I remember meeting a friend with down syndrome when I was probably 10 – while I was overwhelmed, it did create a lasting impression on me – if nothing, I was more accommodative of special children from there on. Unfortunately, as a clear reflection of ignorance, I use to club all such children and call them “mentally retarded” – today it is highlighted as an incorrect way to talk about children with Down syndrome.

While “mental retardation” may be clinically accepted, it is not socially acceptable to use the word “retarded” in any context that may be derogatory.

Why is it important NOW?

Apparently, there is a greater chance of Down’s Syndrome, as well as many other genetic abnormalities, occurring in births to older parents.

With increasing “progressive complexity” in life, pregnancies (or marriages) are only getting delayed – genetically speaking, the number of children with challenges might only increase. The best-case scenario for us is to embrace this diversity and teach our children about the variations in life.

So why not embrace it and be more inclusive about it?

As a marketer, what can I do?

This is my favorite part – What is our role as Marketers? Is it only about awareness or is there more that we can do? How do we pitch in to drive more inclusivity, just like CDSS or FDSI? How do you get people to change?

If I tell you to be more inclusive, you might nod at the thought, even empathize with the videos, but will you move forward and take ‘action’?

A campaign in Spain (by Down España) is a classic way to bring about a change

As a child, you cannot make out a difference – In order to defend the inclusive education of our kids with #DownSyndrome at ordinary schools, they invited children from an inclusive school in Madrid (Spain) to draw their classmates. Then, they asked some mums and dads to play a game. Could they identify who is who?

This campaign shows that between children, differences don´t exist. Amazing Analogy!

Here are few ways to drive (or catalyze) change, as per Jonah Berger’s recent Catalyst (which I loved!). If we apply his recommended framework REDUCE in this setting, it surely gives some great ideas to work on –

Reactance – If you ask people to support you overtly through a campaign, they would most likely not – this is part of Reactance – our natural tendency to resist when someone forces us to change. (am sure you would observe the same behavior when someone persistently asks for donation). Solution – Inspire them through stories, ask people what they think or will do, and highlight the gap that exists today.

Endowment – Once you have kids, their families are more proactive than others.

Distance – Deep Canvassing is a technique when you find a common ground and get the other person to come closer to you in your thoughts – usually preferred for social issues

Inclusive advertising – Brands can feature children with Down Syndrome like ‘normal’ just like Fisher-Price did in 2016, with its commercial featuring a young girl with Down Syndrome.

Uncertainty – Meet them and talk to them. Spend time with them , like the Ads by CDSS show us. Next time you meet someone with DS, have a normal caring conversation with them. Quite likely you will walk away with tonnes of smiles for the rest of the week!

Corroborating Evidence – The more people talk about the issue, the more awareness and acceptance there will be – this is what FDSI has been attempting to do. But maybe get more organizations and people to talk about the children and how they are part of the mainstream.

This is how Gender issues are getting more highlighted because they are being talked more – (and not the other way around – classic case of reverse causation!)

As of now, most of the initiatives revolve around a single day of the DS day on March 21, when stories of exceptions are shared in a nicely constructed article – is this enough to move heads to drive change?

If you read the para above, you know the answer. And if you managed to see the videos, you know what goes through their mind – an ever-resilient positive behavior is what they long for. And we can, as humane marketers, make a difference.

As a starter, let’s talk a bit more about them, get them to be part of our campaigns, and show them as one of the many children who have hopes and aspirations, just like others.

They don’t need our sympathy and apologies. They need our celebrations and smiles.
Let the only nadir they know of, be in the name of their challenge, and it’s only upwards from there!

Image Sources – Baby_Smiling, DSFI, Google AI, Anything_but_sorry, Indelible, Fisher_Price, Spain_Down_Espana

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