Ahead of World Down Syndrome Day on March 21, nonprofit CoorDown launched a global campaign which shows how people with disabilities are routinely shut out of advancements because society assumes they are incapable.

The campaign was inspired by a speech given by Italian Down Syndrome advocate Marta Sodano at a United Nations conference in 2019. In her speech, Sodano described how failing to teach students with disabilities creates a self-fulfilling prophecy: teachers assume they cannot learn on par with their non-disabled peers, so they don’t teach them those subjects and the students don’t learn them.

The Assume That I Can campaign expands on Sodano’s view. “That particular concept applies to many things, not just school,” Luca Lorenzini, co-founder and executive creative director at Small, the creative agency behind the work, told Campaign US. “It’s about living on your own, drinking alcohol, having sex, swearing.”

Starring actress and broadcaster Madison Tevlin, who has Down Syndrome, the film shows how people with Down Syndrome are denied and shut out of growth opportunities such as living alone, drinking alcohol or reading Shakespeare because people don’t think they are able to do so. 

The second half of the video flips these stereotypes, showing viewers that people with Down Syndrome are completely capable of these things and more when others treat them like they are. Tevlin is seen sharing a cocktail with friends, performing Shakespeare and swearing — proving just how easy it is for her to defy assumptions when she’s given the chance.

“Some people were like, ‘oh, you don’t need to use profanity,’” Lorenzini said. “We didn’t want to do it just for the sake of it — but it is about breaking the stereotypes.”

The ad ends with text that reads, “assume that I can, so that maybe I will.” Lorenzini pointed out that the addition of the word “maybe” reflects individual choice and ability: “Not all people with Down Syndrome can do everything, just like all of us — not all of us can become a singer or a soccer player.”

Consulting people with lived experience also lifted the film’s impact. During the process, the team met with many people with Down Syndrome, bringing their direct perspectives to the development of the film

They also worked with other disability associations around the world to make the campaign’s message “as powerful as we could.” And Martina Fuga, CoorDown’s vice president and head of communications, brought her own experience as an activist and mother of a daughter with Down Syndrome to the collaborative creative process.

Assume That I Can used the same production crew as one of CoorDown’s previous campaigns, The Hiring Chain, which encouraged employers to hire people with Down Syndrome. When filming, “we always ask our directors to not treat them like kids but to treat them like actors and actresses,” he added. 

Tevlin is “the living example of what she says in the spot,” added Lorenzini, noting that she does diction lessons to improve her speaking skills, “probably because her parents and teachers assumed she could speak better, encouraged her to go to lessons and then she speaks better.”

The ad struck a nerve on social media, reaching 4.1 million views on TikTok and 5 million on Instagram. On X (formerly Twitter), the video has been shared widely by disability activists including Anna Landre, Alice Wong and Imani Barbarin

Beyond people with Down Syndrome, Assume That I Can’s message is being universally celebrated by people with disabilities, who often face similar forms of infantilization. 

Vilissa Thompson, founder and CEO of disability rights organization Ramp Your Voice, said the work was “one of the best ads I’ve seen” in an X post, adding, “this is how you do an ad/campaign on disability. This is the model.”

“We didn’t expect anything like this,” Lorenzini said of the reaction. Small has worked with CoorDown for 12 years and has created many campaigns for the client, “but this has never happened.” 

He credits the client’s willingness to “push boundaries” as well as Tevlin’s acting range. He also noted that the campaign is not the first of its kind, pointing to Channel 4s Paralympics campaign from 2016 as an “amazing example from a crafting point of view.”

“We are lucky to provide another break in this new way of talking about disabilities,” he said.

This article originally appeared on Campaign US.