Star-studded zoom party celebrates WDSD 2021

Around 100 families on Saturday joined the BIG CONNECT, which may be New Zealand’s largest zoom call, to celebrate World Down Syndrome Day.

The global theme for World Down Syndrome Day asked people to connect in response to the Covid restrictions which have impacted the disabled community particularly hard.

“In response, the New Zealand Down Syndrome Association (NZDSA) decided to invite families from around the country to connect on zoom, which has become such a big part of life in the past year,” says Zandra Vaccarino, the National Executive Officer of the NZDSA.

The response from the community around the country to join the party has been overwhelming and the event was made even more special by the Minister for Disability Issues, Carmel Sepuloni addressing the families.

“We were honoured by the Minister taking the time on a Saturday night to talk to our community who appreciated her recognising that people with Down syndrome are an integral part of our society and achieve incredible successes each day,” says Vaccarino.

Minister Sepuloni was the first of several high-profile guests to appear on The Big Connect, along with Paula Tesoriero, the Disability Rights Commissioner, and Vanessa dos Santos, President of Down Syndrome International.

Tesoriero pointed out that the challenges of the past year had created new ideas and that nobody would have thought about a mass zoom call 12 months ago.

Dos Santos spoke through a video message from her home in South Africa and said New Zealand was the envy of the world, as Kiwis are able to celebrate World Down Syndrome Day this Sunday with other families, while many other countries are still in lockdown.

The NZDSA patron Governor General Dame Patsy Reddy sent a message congratulating the association on its 40th anniversary of providing information, support and advocacy that “has enabled people with Down syndrome to exercise their inherent rights as citizens and feel empowered to participate as active members of their communities”.

Regional groups have organised special events around the country to raise awareness and celebrate the achievements of people with Down syndrome.

The Wellington community on Saturday got together for a big disco, the Canterbury families organised a cruise and a picnic in Lyttleton Harbour, while Otago families will go horse-riding, the Taranaki and Northland community both organised walks in their areas, and the NZDSA is hosting a Rock your Socks event in Palmerston North

With the recent Covid uncertainties, the Auckland Down Syndrome Association decided to cancel its traditional Buddy Walk and instead will create virtual events where families are encouraged to get together in smaller groups and share videos and photos of their private parties.

“It was wonderful for all our families to get together in such a way, especially after we had to cancel all events a year ago,” says Vaccarino.