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Down syndrome community urged to continue engaging

Lena Zhang Harrap is being remembered fondly by her local community for her “infectious smile”. Photo: Starjam/Supplied.

The New Zealand Down syndrome community is urging people with Down syndrome not to let the traumatic events in Mt Albert stop them from seeking independence and to be at the heart of their communities.

“We are heart-broken for Lena Zhang Harrap’s whānau and friends and we hope that the wider community will continue to surround them in love, support and respect their wishes to grieve in private,” says New Zealand Down Syndrome Association National Executive Officer Zandra Vaccarino.

“Lena’s death has shocked our community to the core and many parents have expressed increased fear and anxiety about giving their children with Down syndrome the independence any person deserves.

“We totally understand this sentiment, but we want to encourage all families not to give into this fear by keeping their loved ones at home,” says Zandra.

"The reality is that this horrific incidence is an anomaly in New Zealand and we know that a person with a learning disability is safer in an inclusive community where they can fully participate in all aspects of life,”

Zandra is also speaking on behalf of the UpsideDowns Education Trust, ADSA and Down Syndrome International (DSi) who are liaising to best support their community.

Zandra says Lena was a wonderful example of someone who was fully immersed in her local community.

"This crime has sent shock waves through New Zealand as we grapple with the fact that a perpetrator targeted Lena because of an imbalance in power,” says Zandra.

“We hope that this crime will galvanise a collective response to take action to put safeguards in place in our communities so that disabled people can continue to be fully included in our community.

"We know that disabled people are safer when they are participating in their community and not isolated as highlighted by the current work of the Royal Commission into Abuse that has evidenced the extensive level of institutionalised abuse,” says Zandra.

“Leading a full independent life is a human right for disabled people and inclusive communities are safer and healthier communities.”

On Friday night the NZDSA, ADSA, the President of DSi and the UpsideDowns Education Trust hosted a national zoom call where families were able to share and talk about their shock and anxiety and will continue to look at ways to give families and people with Down syndrome support and reassurance.

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