Rewriting the Narrative for Down Syndrome

Male and female on posters for Down Syndrome

“He won’t fit in. There’s always adoption. She won’t walk or talk. It’s a life of problems. It’s going to be very hard. She’ll be a burden…”

The start of a new life should be a positive experience. But if your child is diagnosed with Down syndrome, it’s not. Current healthcare protocols mean expectant parents are offered termination in the same conversation as diagnosis.

Remarked Shelby McCloud on BBC Look North, “I’m the same as everyone – I just take a little longer.”

To help challenge current protocols, VMLY&R Commerce’s UK agency has launched 'You-Can’t-Put-Me-Down-Syndrome' a cultural movement in partnership with PADS charity [Positive About Down syndrome].

Nicola Enoch, chief executive of Down syndrome UK and PADS observed, “There's a lot of negativity round Down syndrome –stereotyping and outdated attitudes. And, an urgent need to rewrite the narrative, challenge current protocols from a place of experience and absolute understanding. This movement is having great impact. I’m delighted.”

To capture the full and rewarding lives of young people from the Down syndrome community and timed to tap into the power of Down Syndrome Awareness Month, the agency’s photographic campaign features fourteen portraits of fourteen remarkable people.

Models include George Webster, BAFTA-nominated TV presenter with Bring-The-House-Down Syndrome; Adam Wild and Megan Dunn from Northumberland, a young couple Ready-to-settle-Down Syndrome and Shelby McCloud, beautician trainee with Not-Going-to-Tone-It-Down Syndrome

The work is packed with humor, capturing the personality of each person and perceptions they challenge.

The connected campaign has featured across including social, Sky News, Sky Sports, print, digital, out of home at Toni & Guy hair salons and David Lloyd gyms. Partner Mindshare, convinced UK media owners to donate a substantial amount of media value to spread the positivity message to the UK public.

The wave of optimism has taken the campaign right where it’s needed most: the halls of the Houses of Parliament. Home to MPs, lords and policy makers. A place where Nicola and the fourteen young voices could directly challenge policy that expectant parents of babies with Down syndrome are presented with a choice to terminate.

The You-Can’t-Put-Me-Down Syndrome Parliament exhibition nudged MPs and parliamentarians, in real time, to support the pledge: “I support the demand to end the current practice that medical practitioners offer an expectant parent their options including terminating, based purely on a diagnosis of Down syndrome.”

Results to date are remarkable. Over 60 parliamentarians including Ian Duncan-Smith MP, Dame Meg Hillier MP, and Gareth Williamson MP signed the pledge with support from Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who met team PADS moments into his new role.  All this during one of the most turbulent weeks in UK Parliamentary history.

Meanwhile, the social campaign is landing a hugely positive response from across the entire Down syndrome UK community, with tens of thousands of visits to its website. With Mindshare’s partnership, over 30 million impressions have been registered to date across Sky Sports, Sky News as well as Metro websites. And, the campaign has featured on BBC News and Metro cover.

Comments Etty Flynn, creative lead, VMLY&R Commerce, “The community doesn’t see itself as challenged. Nor should anyone else. Our aim is to showcase the positivity, joy, drive and determination of the community– and – create engagement and momentum to carry the message to Parliament. It’s an incredible collaboration across the industry. We’re on our way.”

The model line-up also includes:

  • Tom Enoch, fitness instructor with You-Can’t-Put-Me-Down Syndrome
  • Heidi Carter, activist with Not-One-to-Pipe-Down Syndrome
  • Maya Patil, student with Dancing ‘Til-Sun-Down Syndrome
  • James Langford, NHS worker with Won’t-Let-You-Down Syndrome
  • Millie Anne Prelogar, influencer with Never-Slowing-Down Syndrome
  • Daniya Chaudhry, prom queen with Winning-Hands-Down Syndrome
  • Josh Duff, sports fanatic with Knock-‘Em-Down Syndrome
  • Ross Laing, co-founder of Stand Out Socks, with Refusing-To-Back-Down Syndrome
  • Charlie French, artist with Never-Putting-My-Brush-Down Syndrome
  • George Bowman, best brother who has Lifts-You-Up-When-You’re-Feeling-Down Syndrome.