FCB Canada Gets Vocal With Canadian Down Syndrome Society and Google On "Project Understood"


Robert Goldrich
Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019


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Voice technology doesn’t always understand people with Down syndrome due to their unique speech patterns. By 2023, it is predicted that there will be 8 billion voice-enabled assistants. But what if the people who need them most are being left out?

That is the impetus for the Canadian Down Syndrome Society’s (CDSS) new program “Project Understood,” a partnership with Google to ensure that people with Down syndrome can connect with the changes reshaping the digital world.

The initiative aims to collect voice data from adults with Down syndrome in order to improve its voice recognition models. Machines learn through data. The more data they get, the more accurate they are.

“For most people, voice technology simply makes life a little easier. For people with Down syndrome, it has the potential for creating greater independence. From daily reminders to keeping in contact with loved ones and accessing directions, voice technology can help facilitate infinite access to tools and learnings that could lead to enriched lives,” said Laura LaChance, interim executive director with CDSS.

“With the help of the Canadian Down Syndrome Society we were able to sample a small group to test whether there were enough patterns in the speech of people with Down syndrome for our algorithm to learn and adapt,” said Julie Cattiau, product manager at Google. “It’s exciting to see the success of that test and move into the next phase of collecting voice samples that represent the vocal diversity of the community. The more people who participate, the more likely Google will be able to eventually improve speech recognition for everyone.”

“Project Understood” is running a recruitment drive to encourage more people with Down syndrome to participate. CDSS worked with FCB Canada to create a series of videos--including this one directed by Scott Drucker of production house Radar--to ask people with Down syndrome to “teach” Google. Though people with Down syndrome are often associated with needing help, the campaign flips the stereotype around and turns them into the helpers.


Client Canadian Down Syndrome Society/Google Agency FCB Canada Nancy Crimi-Lamanna, Jeff Hilts, chief creative officers; Elma Karabegovic, Michael Morelli, Marty Hoefkes, associate creative directors; Shannon McCarroll, Jason Soy, copywriters; Shelley Brown, chief strategy officer; Kris Hoet, EVP, head of global innovation. Production Radar Scott Drucker, director/DP; Chet Tilokani, DP; Sarah Michener, line producer. Editorial Outsider Editorial John Gallagher, Michael Barker, editors; Scott Edwards, editorial assistant; Kristina Anzlinger, exec producer. Postproduction Alter Ego Eric Whipp, colorist; Eric Perrella, VFX artist; Caitlin Schooley-Groneveldt, producer. Music Grayson Matthews Mark Dominic, music track director; Vlad Nikolic, engineer; Kelly McClusky, audio producer. Speech Amanda Cotton, speech pathologist.

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