Ad campaign looks to add people with Down syndrome to ‘endangered species list’

Dylan Harman is no stranger to acting, but it’s his recent role wearing a polar bear outfit in the new Canadian Down Syndrome Society’s ad campaign that has people taking notice.

“The support that we get is in danger,” said Harman.

As a person with Down syndrome, Harman has appeared in three Canadian Down Syndrome Society (CDSS) awareness campaigns. This time, the advocacy group is creating buzz with it’s campaign to get people with Down syndrome added to the endangered species list.

The spot features people with Down syndrome dressed up as threatened species.

“We’re a small, not-for-profit organization. We don’t have huge funding to put into the world of media and so, we have to do things that are going to be bold and that are going to get the public talking about the work,” said Ben Tarr, a CDSS Board member.

In another video from the “Endangered Syndrome” campaign, it’s reported that, “In the U.S., Down syndrome births are 30 per cent lower than projected” and that in some countries, that number is approaching zero due to genetic screening.

“The real reason behind the campaign is that support for this community, those living with Down syndrome, is shrinking — in terms of support for housing, support for employment, support for education,” said Tarr.

According to the CDSS, the occurrence of Down syndrome is universal across racial and gender lines and it is estimated to be present in approximately one in 800 births in Canada.

Dylan’s Mother, Biserki Livaja, said she hopes the campaign not only gets people talking but that it gets people to sign the online petition.

“People do get behind endangered species and sometimes people get behind those sort of issues more than issues that deal with other people,” said Livaja.

But Mike Leon, a marketing and branding expert, said commercials like these can backfire.

“Are they potentially dehumanizing them by showing them as animals? So, I think what we’re starting to see is a lot of buzz, a lot of conversation. But I’ve also seen, in the early days of the campaign, some negative comments on social media saying you know what, you got it all wrong,” he said.

Tarr is also the father of a child with Down syndrome and he said the decisions made around the concept were not made lightly.

“I certainly wouldn’t have done anything that I feel is degrading or dehumanizing. The reality is it’s the truth. We need to protect the species in terms of the support they get,” he said.

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