"Assume That I Can": Challenging assumptions through creative discourse

The PHA Group’s Mike Chivers and Sophie Bassil discuss the importance of inclusive representation

Mike Chivers and Sophie Bassil

Creative Director and Account Director The PHA Group


For World Down’s Syndrome Day, creative agency Small launched ‘Assume I Can’ for the Down’s Syndrome charity, CoorDown in Italy. It got people talking – and for good reason. Here, The PHA Group’s Mike Chivers and Sophie Bassil talk about why, and the importance of inclusive representation.

Mike: In the realm of creativity, sparks fly when a campaign ignites a conversation that goes beyond mere admiration.

Such is the case with 'Assume That I Can', a captivating PSA imagined by CoorDown, produced in honour of World Down’s Syndrome Day.

The video, celebrated for its creative brilliance, boldly confronts the negative assumptions often tied to individuals with Down’s Syndrome, shedding light on the barriers they face due to societal perceptions.

Yet, beneath the surface of acclaim, a diverse array of voices emerged from the depths of comment sections, transforming admiration into a dynamic discourse.

The dialogue sparked two distinct camps.

Each with valid viewpoints that demanded consideration.

On one side stood the critics, their raised eyebrows questioning the potential misrepresentation and narrow portrayal of the Down’s Syndrome community.

They voiced concerns about the ad's depiction of an individual functioning at a higher level than the majority, cautioning against the perpetuation of harmful misconceptions.

However, the creators responded, revealing that the campaign was developed in collaboration with adults with Down’s Syndrome and advocacy groups, aiming to challenge low expectations born out of prejudices.

Conversely, amidst the critique, people praised the creative for spotlighting a societal norm in dire need of awareness and reevaluation.

Everyone is unique and we must do more to tell these different stories.

Sophie Bassil is Account Director – Healthcare – at The PHA Group

They applauded its profound message and emphasised the importance of challenging assumptions firsthand, some drawing from personal experiences with disabilities.

During this exchange that continues to rumble on, one truth emerged: the ad succeeded in its mission to spark dialogue.

It served as a catalyst for introspection, prompting viewers to confront their own biases and perceptions. And have a viewpoint.

Beyond its visual impact, and let’s face it’s a beautifully directed piece of film, it ignited a firestorm of conversation, underscoring the importance of challenging assumptions and advocating for a world where everyone's value, experience, and sometimes struggle, is acknowledged.

The 'Assume That I Can' video transcended its role as a mere campaign video, transcending into a catalyst for change.

It reminded us of the power of creativity to ignite discourse, challenge norms, and drive social progress.

Sophie: Sometimes an Awareness Campaign hits you in the face and Assume I Can is one of them. Vibrant, important, inclusive.

Disability campaigns often move between two extremes: a dangerous invisibility where the community is underrepresented, to only showcasing those perceived as ‘superhuman’. Then somewhere in the middle, you have the tired trope of 'pity porn', where disabled individuals are patronised. It's encouraging to see bold attempts to combat these stereotypes.

In this ad, Madison is carrying out activities that many people may take for granted; ordering a cocktail at a bar, living independently and studying.

Some commentators, critics as Mike pointed out, are saying that these activities and this advert only applies to ‘1% of people with Down’s Syndrome’. But they are kind of missing the point. They’re projecting their own view of what a disabled person can and cannot do. Which is exactly why campaigns like this need to exist.

As someone who lives with an invisible disability, I personally love to see people with my condition thrive. However, seeing a breadth of experiences is important. The reality for me is that there are challenges and some days it can feel really, well, shit.

Everyone is unique and we must do more to tell these different stories.

So, I hope that the people who engaged with the ad go on to read about Down’s Syndrome and learn more about the condition and others in the community.

What’s important here is that Coordown and Small worked closely with people from the Down Syndrome community and practiced co-production, collaborating with the likes of the UK based Down’s Syndrome Association. A vital component to make sure the voices of those with the condition were listened to.

At a time when disabled people are being ‘demonised’ by the Government and ‘Life on benefits will not be an option’, should the Labour Party win the next General Election, it’s great to see such an outpouring of praise and love for this ad. Even famous names such as Will Smith and Winne Harlow have shown their support. 

As always when it comes to disability awareness campaigns, we must hope this translate into action.

The Down’s Syndrome Association is a wonderful charity. Can you donate, fundraise or campaign alongside them?

Guest Author

Mike Chivers and Sophie Bassil

Creative Director and Account Director The PHA Group


Mike Chivers is Creative Director at The PHA Group and Sophie Bassil is Account Director – Healthcare – at The PHA Group

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