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Powerful New Ad Challenges Stereotypes About Down Syndrome: ‘Assume I Can’

The ad, made for World Down Syndrome Day on March 21, calls on audiences to stop harmful stereotyping

<p>CoorDown/Small the Agency/ Madison Tevlin/ Instagram</p> A still from the World Down Syndrome Day ad

CoorDown/Small the Agency/ Madison Tevlin/ Instagram

A still from the World Down Syndrome Day ad

A new ad campaign is asking viewers to challenge their conceptions about Down syndrome.

In a commercial produced by CoorDown and Small New York in association with the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS), as well as several other organizations, actress and model Madison Tevlin speaks candidly about the stereotypical ways the world sees her as a person with Down syndrome.

“Hey bartender, you assume that I can’t drink a margarita so you don’t serve me a margarita so I don’t drink a margarita,” Tevlin, 22, says in the ad, as a bartender places a soda down on the bar in front of her. “Your assumption becomes reality.”

As clips play of Tevlin's parents tucking her into bed and standing next to her as she brushes her teeth play, she continues, “Parents, you assume that I cannot live on my own. So you don’t encourage me to live on my own. So I don’t live on my own.”

Related: Photo Series Explores What People with Down Syndrome Think of Growing Older: '46 Is Still Young!'

The ad, which was produced in honor of World Down Syndrome Day on March 21, then shows the actress struggling to be treated with respect by her boxing coach and her teacher, who refuses to teach her Shakespeare.

“But hey — if your assumptions become reality,” Tevlin says, as the music ramps up and the ad shows the bottle of soda she was served shattering into pieces, “then assume that I can drink a margarita.”

Tevlin’s world changes in front of the audience’s eyes — she suddenly is able to enjoy her cocktail, live in an apartment by herself, fight in a boxing match and recite “f------ Shakespeare.”

“You assumed I couldn’t swear, right?” she jokes to the camera.

The ad goes on to show how Tevlin — and the thousands of others living with Down syndrome worldwide — can hold jobs, have sex, party and be treated as fully-fledged adults by those around them.

Ending with a shot of people with Down syndrome standing shoulder-to-shoulder as they look directly in the camera, the ad calls the audience to action: “Assume that I can, so maybe I will.”

Related: Teen with Down Syndrome Gets Cut from Cheer Team. Then She Masters the Full Routine on the Sidelines (Exclusive)

“Our negative assumptions about people with Down syndrome can lead us to treat them in such a way that these assumptions become reality,” Small the Agency writes in the caption of the ad on Instagram. “In sociology, this is called a ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’. Why not reverse our perspectives?”

“If we have positive assumptions about people with Down syndrome, we’ll give them more opportunities in their schools, workplaces, relationships and activities,” the statement continues. “And maybe these positive assumptions will become reality.”

According to the president and CEO of the NDSS, Kandi Pickard, the aim of the video is to end harmful stereotypes that impact people with Down syndrome.

“Many times people with disabilities are presumed to be unable to care for themselves or unable to make their own decision and that’s not the case,” Pickard told Today.

“This video is opening up these conversations in such a healthy way for [the] public to see not only the beauty but the ability of people with Down syndrome,” Pickard told the outlet. “This is what we do as an organization day in and day out. We want to shift the public perception of Down syndrome.”

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