The video above was created by Italian organization CoorDown in order to raise awareness for Down syndrome. Yet you only see a woman with Down syndrome at the very end of the video. Prior to her appearance, you know her through voice-over — as she provides an internal monologue for a character played by actress Olivia Wilde. "This is how I see myself," she says, as Wilde runs on the beach with her family, works in a restaurant, and hangs out with her significant other. "I see myself as an ordinary person... How do you see me?" she asks the viewer at the end. Thus implying that, all too easily, people with Down syndrome or other disabilities can be reduced to just that part of their identity. Driven by the hashtag, #HowDoYouSeeMe, the PSA's intention was to change how people with Down syndrome are viewed — and to encourage others to look beyond their perceived disability and instead consider their whole person. But its efforts were only mildly successful. Though it has reached a wide audience, the reactions have been mixed, to the point that it's even raised the ire of some viewers. Some took to Twitter to commend CoorDown's work:
But others used social media to rally against the PSA's perceived message of ableism:
The criticism against the PSA reveals an important tension in how we discuss disabilities. As much as some may seek to normalize them, others fear that these efforts will deny differently-abled people the opportunity to take ownership of their disabilities as they see fit. In spite of CoorDown's good intentions, its message was simultaneously received as equalizing and reductive. Where supporters considered it a powerful reframing of Down syndrome, crtics thought it minimized how someone's disability is an intergral part of them. One way in which the PSA succeeded was that it started an important conversation — How are people with Down syndrome represented in media? What needs to change about that? — just in time for World Down Syndrome Day on March 21. Let us know your thoughts in the comments.