A Canadian advocacy group for people with Down syndrome is getting backlash over an admittedly “edgy” campaign that compares people with the condition to animals.
The Canadian Down Syndrome Society wants the International Union for the Conservation of Nature to add people with Down syndrome to its endangered species list. They would be the first humans on the list, which classifies endangered, threatened and vulnerable animal species around the globe.
A video from the advocacy group (see above) makes its point in part by dressing individuals with Down syndrome in costumes resembling such endangered, threatened and vulnerable species as polar bears, lions and rhinos.
The campaign is a reaction to the fact that genetic screening has led to a significant decrease in people born with Down syndrome.
Since the prenatal tests were introduced in Iceland in the early 2000s, for example, almost 100 percent of women who received a positive test for Down syndrome opted for an abortion, according to CBS. As a result, the condition has been almost completely disappeared from Iceland’s younger population.
Some people may believe that eradicating the condition is a good thing. But advocates argue that this kind of attitude contributes to a stigma that people with Down Syndrome are lesser humans. And that kind of thinking impacts societal awareness, funding and job opportunities for those who have Down syndrome and desperately need aid — hence the campaign.
“Whether it’s underfunded support programs for education, higher rates of unemployment, extended waitlists for appropriate housing, or even just negative public perception and stigma, the challenges faced by people with Down syndrome aren’t decreasing — they’re increasing,” Laura LaChance, the board chair for the Canadian Down Syndrome Society, said in a press release.
The group told HuffPost Canada that by pushing to add people with Down syndrome to the endangered species list, it’s advocating for the same kinds of “funding, protections, government intervention and public awareness that species on the Endangered List receive.”
Many people still found the campaign’s comparison of humans to animals dehumanizing.
Francie Munoz, a woman with Down syndrome who received media attention in 2017 after footage showed two police officers mocking her during a traffic stop, told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation that she is not a fan of the campaign.
“It doesn’t matter who you are ... I don’t like people comparing me as an animal. It’s not fair,” Munoz told the Toronto-based CBC. “Love us for who we are, not a character, not an animal.”
Her father, Carlos Munoz, also feels the campaign is sending the wrong message.
“The parents I have talked to do not appreciate the fact that our children are being compared to animals,” he told the CBC. “As cute as a polar bear can be, I don’t think that anybody should be making that comparison in that sense.”
He also noted that even though the campaign is sparking a conversation, it’s mostly among people in the Down syndrome community and it’s focused on the campaign itself.
Some people simply seemed confused by the advocacy group’s effort.
So while the campaign is certainly fighting for people with Down syndrome, the “endangered species” gimmick may be turning off more people than it’s enlightening.
HuffPost reached out to the Canadian Down Syndrome Society and several other Down syndrome advocacy groups for comment but did not receive an immediate response.