Dubai’s successful development model, which has seen it develop into one of the world’s most prominent cities in the last few decades, has always had inclusive growth and social well-being at its centre. Nowhere is its focus on human welfare more evident than its investment in improving the lives of people with special needs
Integrating the requirements of special needs people into social and economic planning has always been part of both the UAE’s and Dubai’s development ethos. People of special needs have high levels of participation in the country’s economic, social, cultural and sporting life.
UAE and Dubai have also led the world in reframing descriptions of people with special needs. At the launch of the National Strategy for Empowering People with Disabilities in 2017, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum introduced a new description for special needs people. He called them ‘people of determination’.
His Highness said: "Disability is in fact the inability to make progress and achievements. The achievements that ‘people of determination’ have made in various spheres over the past years are proof that determination and strong will can do the impossible and encourage people to counter challenges and difficult circumstances while firmly achieving their goals.”
Within the framework of this new perspective, Dubai considers ‘people of determination’ an integral part of its human capital. Developing and empowering them is a key pillar of its development plans. The Government of Dubai has issued many legislations to protect their rights and provide them with internationally benchmarked support.
Under its overarching vision, Dubai has implemented wide-ranging plans to provide quality services to enhance the lives of ‘people of determination’ in the areas of health, rehabilitation and accessibility; education; social security and family empowerment; public life; culture; and sports. Following the introduction of the National Strategy for Empowering People with Disabilities, Sheikh Mohammed directed the appointment of a dedicated person in every service-related organisation, to be in-charge of facilitating services for ‘people of determination’. The government also launched several campaigns to increase awareness about their rights and services available to them.
World’s first Accessible Tourism International Summit
Dubai’s global leadership in raising the quality of life of ‘people of determination’ is exemplified by its keenness to create platforms for sharing expertise in this domain. The emirate has just announced that it will be hosting the world’s first Accessible Tourism International Summit from 5 to 6 November this year. To be held under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, President of Dubai Civil Aviation Authority, Chairman of Dubai Airports and Chairman and Chief Executive of Emirates Airline and Group, the Summit will be held under the theme of “making all cities friendly for tourists with disabilities”.
The event aims to highlight the challenges faced by about one billion ‘people of determination’ during their travel as visitors or tourists to cities around the world. The Summit will also discuss the necessity to strengthen the legislations, laws, infrastructure and services catering to the needs of tourists with disabilities and their aspirations to explore the world with ease.
My Community ... A City for Everyone
One of the pivotal initiatives in Dubai’s comprehensive plan for enhancing the lives of ‘people od determination is ‘My Community ... A City for Everyone’, a programme launched by the Crown Prince of Dubai His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. The initiative includes projects promoting the participation and inclusion of ‘people of determination’ in the community. A series of projects have been implemented to eliminate obstacles standing in the way of their positive engagement as capable individuals of society.
The objectives of ‘My Community ... A City for Everyone’ are four-fold - promoting equal opportunities; maintaining social cohesion; building social capital; and minimising and eventually eliminating social exclusion. Under this initiative, comprehensive empowerment policies were adopted to integrate ‘people of determination’ in all aspects of life in Dubai. Since its establishment, the initiative has supported ‘people of determination’ through quality health and rehabilitation services and access to inclusive education with specialised support services in mainstream schools, among many others.
Dubai Municipality is a key player in the drive to improve the quality of life of ‘people of determination’. The Municipality closely studies the requirements of ‘people of determination’ when upgrading or developing projects and facilities. It offers guides in Braille language in all public parks and customer service centres. They are exempted from entry fees in public parks and have specialised physical fitness equipment, in addition to free wheelchairs. Children of determination are offered specialised games in public parks.
The Municipality has also dedicated specially-designed counters for ‘people of determination’ in its service centres and specialised pathways on beaches. Trained staff have been stationed in parks and service centers to communicate using sign language, if required. Dedicated car parking and complimentary wheelchairs are also available in Dubai Municipality facilities.
Inclusive service training
Dubai has also introduced new training programmes focused on ensuring the city is universally welcoming across all touch points. The Dubai College of Tourism (DCT) established by the Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (Dubai Tourism), recently launched an inclusive service-training programme designed to help tourist-facing employees provide ‘people of determination’ with superior customer service. The programme, developed as the second phase of the ‘Dubai Way’ initiative launched in 2017, highlights the role of empathy and the importance of providing the highest standards of hospitality to all visitors, reflecting a truly inclusive society.
Aimed at fostering awareness of different disabilities, the initiative also educates students on common misconceptions and oversights, helping to serve guests with disabilities in the most sensitive manner. The new programme utilises an array of assets including videos, real-life stories, activities and assessments to equip learners with the skills needed to handle challenging service scenarios.
Meanwhile, Dubai Health Authority (DHA) has achieved notable progress in providing ‘people of determination’ with quality healthcare that matches services offered in leading countries - US, UK, Canada, Japan and Australia. Services include early detection for autism and developmental delays; early intervention including physiotherapy, speech therapy and motor skill therapy; a variety of physiotherapy and rehabilitation services; and many specialised intervention programmes.
Roads and Transportation
Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) is another organisation that has implemented a range of projects to improve accessibility for ‘people of determination’. Within its Corporate Social Responsibility framework, RTA has developed integrated services and solutions for ‘people of determination’.
RTA offers tactile floor paths to guide visually-impaired people at metro stations. All ticket-selling booths are designed to be accessible to wheelchair users and special spaces are offered on all metro facilities for wheelchair users. Audio-visual cautionary signs are flashed upon opening and closing of platform screen doors. Also available are escalators fitted with side-hand rests stretching along the rail, non-slippery sliding paths from the car park to the station entrance, public phones at a much lower level to enable ‘people of determination’ to use them and spacious doors to ease wheelchair accessibility.
RTA has also designed pavements whose height is lowered in the proximity of junctions or cross points to help ‘people of determination’ cross roads. It has also constructed pedestrian crossings between two ends of the road such that there is no height difference, apart from providing lifts to footbridges. RTA has also designed additional parking lots for ‘people of determination’ and installed signs to assist them.
The financial empowerment of ‘people of determination’ has been another strong focus for Dubai. In line with the ‘My Community’ initiative, the Community Development Authority (CDA) in Dubai introduced the Sanad Card, available free of charge to both Emiratis and expatriates. The card offers exclusive privileges and services with up to 50 per cent discount on select services and products ‘people of determination’ need. These services include exemption from public transportation fees, vehicle registration and Salik fees, 50 per cent discount for registration fees on new utility applications, wheelchair and Marhaba service, and discounts on medical, dental and legal services, among others. The Sanad Card is also the main tool to build a database for ‘people of determination’ in the Emirate of Dubai, which will contribute to designing programmes and services that address current needs.
Over the coming years, Dubai will continue introducing new projects promoting an inclusive, restriction-free society for ‘people of determination’. In close cooperation with key stakeholders, the emirate’s government is constantly exploring fresh initiatives to empower ‘people of determination’ and enhance their ability to lead a dignified life.