I dream of a society where people with disabilities are not on the other side of the glass, where people don’t look at them with pity or to feel inspired, but instead see them as active individuals.
These are 6 ways, we can make the UAE more inclusive.
1. Let’s start with education
Formal education is the first chance for people with disabilities to interact with the world. If they have are in a regular classroom, then why not train teachers to accommodate and make it illegal for schools/teachers who refuse to have them in the class? In most cases kids want to be treated normally but that does not mean depriving them of accommodations. I have been in both situations. In first grade a teacher didn’t want me in class because I was a slow in writing -mobility related-. I had to join the “special needs class”, yet after a year they decide I didn’t need to be in that class.
In college they “treated me equally” which means they did not help with anything I needed. They did not always accept my medical reports for absences, or give me extra time during exams. If I needed anything, I had to talk to a lot of people and departments, but ultimately, no one would help.
Every school should have an accessibility department and preferably hire people with disabilities, because they know the most about disability. Ask each student about what they need because each individual’s case is different and provide support in the form of resources and aid when needed. Make sure the medical info is communicated effectively to the individual’s instructors as well, and the necessary measures are taken, to ensure full accessibility.
If the disability is caused by a medical condition, healthcare providers should research how to increase the quality of life and wellbeing of the patient.
I was born prematurely– I have a chronic condition that affects how my muscles function and has affected my sight, mobility and overall health. Growing up, I developed other medical conditions and doctors didn’t (and still don’t) seem to know what do and how to stop my body from deteriorating, or how to make my symptoms manageable.
3. The media
Characters with disabilities on TV are often played by able-bodied actors- this is a problem. Every role is a chance for a disabled person to act, yet if they are visibly disabled that is the only role they can play. It would help to reject stereotypes and have actors with disabilities playing diverse roles. The media’s job should be normalizing disabled people, so we could be viewed as people with similar problems, hopes, and dreams.
4. Employment and economy
We are not a burden to society. We can offer a unique perspective, if we are given the tools.
There are notions that people with disabilities are unproductive and unreliable and have nothing to offer, these stereotypes make it difficult for people with disabilities to get jobs.
If we are not given the chance to contribute then how will they know what skills or talents we have? There are more than 1.3 billon people with disabilities globally– that means businesses are failing to address a huge market of underrepresented people.
Accessibility is not just about putting up wheelchair ramps, it’s about designing places in an accessible way, so that we can get around independently. My previous college campus was not wheelchair-accessible and the elevators were always out of order. This made college a lot harder for me, and actually worsened my health condition significantly, because I had to limp around instead of using a wheelchair.
6. Awareness campaigns
Most of the work I see on “disability awareness” is a waste of time and resources. It’s only done for publicity, with no real results. I don’t think “how to deal with disabled” lectures are beneficial it because emphasizes the idea that we are different, when we are not. Special treatment will only create more barriers – making proper adjustments and accommodating us won’t.
Maybe instead of the awareness campaigns, we need changes in legislations, laws that protects us from discrimination here in the Middle East, in all areas. Even here, I witnessed a receptionist refusing services to a disabled man because he had a speech impairment – this was in a private hospital. This would not have happened if people were aware of a clear law against discrimination.
Here in the UAE, more light is directed toward disability. Initiatives are done out of good intentions and the awareness is raising -of our existence? – more and more people are willing to offer help. But, I hope we grow out of the inspiration phase. I know that this will take effort and time. But, I hope to see more inclusivity and accessibility in this country, one day.