CDSS takes awareness fight international

The Canadian Down Syndrome Society is petitioning the IUCN to have people with Down syndrome listed as "endangered."


The Canadian Down Syndrome Society (CDSS) has taken the drastic step of applying to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to have people with Down syndrome become the first group of humans listed as “endangered,” as part of the organization’s latest campaign aimed at raising awareness and support for people with Down Syndrome and members of their community.

Birth rates for people with Down Syndrome have been on a decline in certain regions of the world, including the U.S. and Europe, according to CDSS. And with that decline comes less funding and support for the community, resulting in greater housing, education and employment challenges.

Which is where “Endangered Syndrome” comes in.

Working with FCB Canada, the agency behind CDSS’ last two award-winning campaigns, the organization is asking IUCN to have people with Down syndrome added to its Red List of Threatened Species, which would, in theory, lead to similar kinds of funding, protections, government interventions and public awareness as the animal species on the list.

Currently, according to a campaign microsite, animal welfare organizations receive 90% more resources and funding than Down syndrome organizations in North America.

“We needed dramatic support, so we needed to do something dramatic to get that message across,” says Nancy Crimi-Lamanna, co-CCO at FCB Canada. “In talking about all the challenges, it became very clear that people with Down syndrome were facing many of the same challenges that endangered species are.”

The launch of “Endangered Syndrome” coincided with Canadian Down Syndrome Week from Nov. 1 to 7 and includes a series of videos and print ads featuring people with Down syndrome dressed up as endangered species appearing next to lines like “A lion can roar for help. I can only ask” and “Just as fierce. Just as endangered.”

Additional interviews with parents and people living with Down syndrome are supporting the campaign, and assets are running as posters, billboards and pre-roll videos that throw to the campaign website, where people are invited to sign the petition. The idea is to present the application to the United Nations on World Down syndrome Day on March 21 next year.

Last year’s “Anything But Sorry” campaign rolled out in two phases: phase one launched on time for Canadian Down Syndrome Week and was followed by phase two for World Down Syndrome Day. This year, CDSS and FCB will gauge the response to the current campaign in deciding how to evolve it for the awareness day in March, which is the second-largest communication opportunity of the year for CDSS.

In determining how to approach the campaigns, given their sensitive subject matter, FCB works closely with CDSS, seeking the board’s approval on the creative and working with it to fine-tune the message, says Crimi-Lamanna. People in the Down syndrome community have been “incredibly supportive” of the most recent campaign, she says.

On social media, people from across the globe have been reaching out to show support for the cause and signing the petition, adds Laura LaChance, chair of the board at CDSS.

Working with the campaign’s cast members – many of them repeats from previous campaigns – allows the agency to “gain the true insights and really to identify the issues at hand,” says Jeff Hilts, co-CCO at FCB. “Having our incredible staff available to advocate for themselves has been a powerful thing in the past. And continues to be a powerful thing now.”

The campaign includes one unfamiliar face: that of six-month-old Ava, who appears dressed as an endangered sea turtle in the creative. Ava’s mother, Kylie Samson, announced her pregnancy through last year’s campaign, which targeted the moment babies with Down syndrome enter the world, humorously reminding everyone that “sorry” is the only wrong thing to say in those circumstances.