Growing up in a close-knit family of six, Rosa Hopkirk loved parties and socialising.
So, it saddened her three brothers, Callum, Daniel and Jonathan, when, as Rosa got older, she was sometimes left out of birthday parties, private functions and nights dancing because she has Down syndrome.

Indeed, Jonathan, now a doctor and part-time DJ in Sydney, says it broke his heart so he decided to do something about it, including Rosa in some of his DJ sets.

"I always love seeing how the crowd warms with her energy and presence."

In September, after years of planning, Jonathan launched Dance For Abilities (DFA) to create more opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities to let their hair down and party. DFA organises and hosts social events for those with intellectual disabilities in the same venues that we all would go to on a night out.

Brothers Jonathan and Daniel Hopkirk have been inspired by sister Rosa to launch Dance for Abilities.
Brothers Jonathan and Daniel Hopkirk have been inspired by sister Rosa to launch Dance for Abilities.

It caters to the specific needs of guests who might, for example, be hyper-sensitive to noise — headphones are provided — or have special dietary requirements. There's no strobe lighting, which can affect people who are prone to seizures or epilepsy.

Three events have been held in Sydney — with more people attending each time — and now Jonathan and Daniel are launching a New Zealand DFA chapter. The inaugural event is at one of Auckland's most popular night spots, Everybody's.

Daniel, managing director of event and brand specialists Crave Global, says sponsors like Sony have been quick to join the party because they also realise the positive impact diversity and social inclusion has on entire communities.

"I saw the impact it had in Sydney and I've never seen so many smiling faces — including Rosa, who flew over to be part of it," he says, adding that he and Jonathan hope to organise an event at least every four months.

Rosa, 32, got to DJ at the Hawaiian-themed party, playing her favourite tracks by Michael Jackson. Naturally, she will be first in the door at Wednesday's event where guests will include characters from the Star Wars franchise.

DFA is one of a growing number of initiatives making sure social, arts and cultural events well and truly are for everybody. If you're a regular at Tim Bray Productions for children or performances at the Auckland Arts Festival, you may have spied interpreters standing or sitting to one side of a stage using NZ Sign Language to tell the story to hearing impaired audience members.

Brothers Jonathan and Daniel Hopkirk have been inspired by sister Rosa to launch Dance for Abilities.
Brothers Jonathan and Daniel Hopkirk have been inspired by sister Rosa to launch Dance for Abilities.

Both organisations have a long-standing commitment to make the arts accessible to all. AAF's access team, Helen Winskill and Marama Lloyd, plan on continuing these initiatives next year, which is music to the ears of Aine Kelly-Costello.

The 23-year-old is an accomplished pianist and flautist who holds a conjoint degree in music (classical flute performance) and arts (English and Spanish). She says it's getting easier for patrons who, like her, are blind, to attend more productions — theatre and dance, for example — because of arts accessibility programmes.


This year, she enjoyed three AAF shows including the plays 1984 and Jack Charles v the Crown and the From Scratch 546 Moons exhibition. She's a regular attendee of audio-described shows and was particularly impressed by Auckland Live and the Royal NZ Ballet's 2017 initiative.

The organisations teamed up to provide a touch tour, pre-show talk about the history of ballet and audio description of the ballet Romeo and Juliet. Writing about the experience for Arts Access Aotearoa, she says the depth and abundance of descriptors and verbs she and other blind and visually impaired audience members got really stood out. But what made it most special was that she could go to a ballet with her mum, Katherine.

"I could not have known what it would mean to attend a ballet with my mother: to experience the whole show, not just the music. It was an artform I had subconsciously assigned to the 'unreachable' pile."

Give them kudos

Do you want to see an outstanding disabled artist or a leader providing access to the arts for people in New Zealand recognised? Now's your chance to nominate them for an Arts Access Award, presented annually by Arts Access Aotearoa which works to increase access to the arts for everyone, whatever their circumstances. There are six categories:

● Arts Access Artistic Achievement Award
● Arts Access Holdsworth Creative Space Award
● Arts Access Community Partnership Award
● Arts Access Creative NZ Arts for All Award
● Arts Access Corrections Maui Tikitiki a Taranga Award
● Arts Access Corrections Whai Tikanga Award

Nominations close on Monday, April 16. See or contact Claire Noble on (04) 802 4349;

What: Dance For Abilities
Where and when: Everybody's, Wednesday; register to go at
Dance For Abilities has a Give-A-Little page where you can donate to ensure the event is free for all guests. A donation of $35 will cover one person's experience