On July 21, 2020 Shalva held its annual conference marking World Down Syndrome Day- this time, virtually over Zoom, exactly four months after its originally scheduled date was delayed by the COVID-19 lockdown. The conference was co-hosted by Shalva, the Hadassah Medical Center and the Jerusalem Foundation in cooperation with the Ministry of Social Affairs and Social Services. Over 200 viewers attended the six lectures which each had designated Zoom links and were all simultaneously broadcasted via Facebook live.

The conference was opened by Rephael Cohen, an adult in Shalva’s employment program with Down syndrome. “People with disabilities have experienced an especially challenging time period, but this conference exemplifies that good things can also come out of the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.

The conference began with greetings from Gideon Shalom, the Senior Vice President of Israel’s Ministry of Social Affairs and Social Services, and Department Director of the Disabilities Care Branch and Kalman Samuels, Shalva’s Founder and President. “This was meant to be the Bar-Mitzvah year of this conference, but we made sure that the pandemic wouldn’t spoil this celebration,” said Shalom. “I would like to congratulate you on your assertive devotion to the cause which has made this possible. We expect that this conference will reveal some of the most recent advancements in the field so that we can update and focus our work and policies accordingly.”

Following a brief introduction of Shalva history, Kalman Samuels shared a message of hope in reference to the challenging circumstances social distancing related to the COVID-19 pandemic. “Malki transformed her own isolation into a springboard; and in these times we must continue to work toward building a society which is united, accepting, and equal for all.”

The conference was titled “Innovation and Down Syndrome” and included lectures about trends of progressing intellectual development among people with Down syndrome over time, technology-based therapy solutions, employment and aging. Liron Benisti, Shalva’s Director of Research and Development, and Mira Yaakobi, Shalva’s head occupational therapist, presented the SHALVA VITA software, developed by Shalva in partnership with the University of Southern California and the Ian Karten Trust. SHALVA VITA employs virtual reality technology to simulate therapist guided job interviews. Challenged by avatar interviewers with different character dispositions and in different locations, adults with disabilities hone their social and communication skills in reparation for successful workplace inclusion.

Watch Dr. Tenenbaum’s presentation highlighting up to date research of Down syndrome with a focus on Down syndrome and COVID-19.