People With Down Syndrome, Frustrated by Voice Devices, Are Teaching Google to Hear Them

FCB Canada and its advocacy client launch Project Understood

Project Understood from the Canadian Down Syndrome Society is helping Google's voice platform understand those with Down syndrome. - Credit by FCB Canada
Headshot of David Griner

Voice-controlled devices could be life-changing resources for people with Down syndrome or other developmental disabilities, but there’s one obvious obstacle that often holds them back: being understood.

Agency FCB Canada and the Canadian Down Syndrome Society—who’ve partnered on several innovative projects that help humanize and celebrate people with Down syndrome in recent years—have launched Project Understood to help improve Google’s voice-recognition platform.

Here’s a video explaining both the problem and the solution currently being developed in partnership with Google:

“For most people, voice technology simply makes life a little easier,” says Laura LaChance, interim executive director of the Canadian Down Syndrome Society. “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.”

Timed to coincide with Canadian Down Syndrome Week, being observed this week, the rollout of Project Understood includes a recruitment drive hoping to get more people with Down syndrome to participate in the program teaching Google’s devices to understand a wider range of voices.

Those who want to participate can click the “Donate your voice” button on

“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,” says 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.”

Previous projects created by the Canadian Down Syndrome Society in partnership with FCB Canada included Down Syndrome Answers, which created an array of videos where people with Down syndrome answer questions that are likely searched on Google by parents of children diagnosed with the disability.

In 2018, they created a campaign asking for people with Down syndrome to be added to the Endangered Species List, highlighting a decline in representation for the community alongside a 30% drop in U.S. Down births compared to projections.


Campaign Title: Project Understood
Client: Canadian Down Syndrome Society
Chair: Ed Casagrande
Interim Executive Director: Laura LaChance
Marketing and Communications Manager: Kristen Halpen
Board Member: Ben Tarr

Technical Program Manager: Bob MacDonald
Technical Program Manager: Pan-Pan Jiang
Product Manager: Julie Cattiau
Engineer: Jimmy Tobin

Creative Agency: FCB Canada
Chief Creative Officers: Nancy Crimi-Lamanna & Jeff Hilts
President: Bryan Kane
Associate Creative Director: Elma Karabegovic
Associate Creative Director: Michael Morelli
Associate Creative Director: Marty Hoefkes
Copywriter: Shannon McCarroll
Copywriter: Jason Soy
VP, Managing Director: Tracy Little
Group Account Director: Blake Connolly
Account Supervisor: Olivia Selbie
Agency Producer/s: Sarah Michener/Kristine Lippett
VP of Operations: Shandi Horovitch
Project Manager: Cori Pettit
Chief Strategy Officer: Shelley Brown
Director of Strategy: Eryn LeMesurier
Director of Strategy: Shelagh Hartford
Strategy Coordinator: Audrey Zink
Director, Product and Technology Solutions: John Sime
EVP, Head of Global Innovation: Kris Hoet

PR: Shannon Stephaniuk, Glossy

Production Company: Radar
Director: Scott Drucker
Line Producer: Sarah Michener
Director of Photography: Scott Drucker & Chet Tilokani
Camera Operator: Scott Drucker & Chet Tilokani
Audio: Nicolas Field
Hair and Make-Up: Neil Silverman
Photographer: Cassidy Clemmer

Editing House: Outsider Editorial
Editors: John Gallagher/Michael Barker
Editorial Assistant: Scott Edwards
Executive Producer: Kristina Anzlinger

Transfer Facility: Alter Ego

Colourist: Eric Whipp

Online Facility: Alter Ego
VFX Artist: Eric Perrella
Alter Ego Producer: Caitlin Schooley-Groneveldt

Music House: Grayson Matthews
Music Track Director: Mark Dominic
Engineer: Vlad Nikolic
Audio Producer: Kelly McCluskey
Speech Pathologist: Amanda Cotton

Website design: Bliss Interactive
Kris Van Wallendael
Julie Post
Dao Tran

@griner David Griner is creative and innovation editor at Adweek and host of Adweek's podcast, "Yeah, That's Probably an Ad."
Publish date: November 4, 2019 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT