This Funny Down Syndrome Ad Will Change the Way You Feel About ‘Special Needs’

What is a special need, anyway?

Headshot of Angela Natividad

Able society is weird about people with disabilities. Eyes dart away. We’re overly helpful, not helpful enough. We call their needs “special,” as though demanding the same access to stuff we all want, like jobs or love or the chance to learn, is extra.

To change the discourse around a lazy euphemism, Coordown, Italy’s national organization for people with Down syndrome, launched “Not Special Needs,” an ad with Lauren Potter of Glee and John McGinley of Scrubs.

Potter addresses the “special needs” issue head-on, by pointing to needs that would really be special.

Like a need to eat dinosaur eggs.

This sly method of listing actual “special needs” demonstrates that people with Down syndrome are pretty normal, in the sense that they can be funny, charming, smart and don’t want John McGinley barging in at the crack of dawn to chat about his filmography. What you’re left with is the feeling that “special needs” only creates a barrier that obscures actual people.

The film was created by Publicis and directed by Wayne McClammy. Supporting stars include Sam Suchmann and Mattie Zufelt, who made the movie Spring Break Zombie Massacre, and Jared Kozak, known for Orson’s Last Dance and Leader of the Pack.

McGinley, the only star who does not have Down syndrome, has a son with the disorder and is an international spokesman for the Global Down Syndrome Foundation.

“The term ‘special needs’ is a euphemistic way to speak about persons with disabilities and their needs,” says Publicis chief creative officer Andy Bird. “The reality is people with Down syndrome do not have different or special needs, although they may sometimes meet those needs in different ways. They have the same needs as all of us—jobs, friends, love and simply the need to be seen and treated equally.”

“Not Special Needs” has generated 5.7 million Facebook views in five days. It will also be presented today during the World Down Syndrome Day Conference in New York, at the United Nations headquarters.

“World Down Syndrome Day has great symbolic value for us, and we have been promoting it for some time,” says president Sergio Silvestre of CoorDown Onlus. “The main objective of our work is to break down prejudices and stereotypes, and contribute to a profound change in attitude toward people with Down syndrome and more generally to the world of disability. We want to give our young people opportunities and tools that can ensure them a bright future.”

This marks Coordown’s first work with Publicis New York, where it was led by freshly minted executive creative directors Luca Pannese and Luca Lorenzini.

Learn more about “Not Special Needs” at its dedicated website, or read more about it on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram under #NotSpecialNeeds.

Agency: Publicis New York
Chief Creative Officer: Andy Bird
Executive Creative Directors: Luca Pannese, Luca Lorenzini
Copywriter: David Green
Art Director: Jen Wang
Director of Integrated Production Operations: Tim Ayers
Senior Integrated Producer: Jakub Popadiuk
Lead AD Tech Developer: Scott Jones
Interactive Developer: Dara Mao
Art Director: Jen Wang
Group Account Director: Kathryn Harvey
Account Director: Jakub Popadiuk, Shari Letterman
Chief Production Officer: Lisa Bifulco
Agency Producer: Chris Muldoon
Agency Editor: Marc Legana
Production Company: Hungryman Productions
Director: Wayne McClammy
Executive Producer/Managing Partner: Kevin Byrne
Puppet and Puppeteering: Legacy Effects
Editorial Company: Rock Paper Scissors
EP: Rana Martin and Eve Kornblum
Editor: Christjan Jordan
AE: Pieter Viljoen
Producer: Dani DuHadway
Color: Billy Hobson
VFX: Paul O’Shea, Miles Essmiller, Phil Man
Puppet and Puppeteering: Legacy Effects
Music Producer: Rachel Rauch
Music, Mix and Sound Design by: Record & Mix: Beacon Street Studios
Composers: Andrew Feltenstein & John Nau
Executive Producer: Leslie DiLullo
Senior Producer: Kate Vadnais
Mixer/Sound Designer: Rommel Molina
Mix Assistant: Vivi Rojas

@luckthelady Angela Natividad is a frequent contributor to Adweek's creativity blog, AdFreak. She is also the author of Generation Creation and co-founder of Hurrah, an esports agency. She lives in Paris and when she isn't writing, she can be found picking food off your plate.