Accessibility must be for everybody

Making hotel rooms to suit the needs of disabled people is only one aspect to an accessibility policy.

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A report in The National yesterday that three of Dubai's leading hotels are being featured on an international website targeting tourists with disabilities is a step in the right direction. But it also raises questions about whether more can be done across the board to meet the needs of disabled people, tourists and residents alike.

The hotels – Jumeirah Zabeel Saray, Jumeirah Beach Hotel and the Burj Al Arab – have been praised by founder James Price for their features, including large rooms with open-floor showers, and ground-floor access to facilities such as restaurants, pools, gyms and beaches. Of course, other hotels are also catering for the needs of disabled. As Majid Al Marri, the director of licensing at the Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing, told our reporter, new guidelines should ensure that 1 per cent of all hotel and serviced apartment rooms in Dubai have facilities for the disabled, and that staff are trained to assist all guests. Other emirates have similar regulations.

But no tourist is going to spend an entire holiday at their hotel, so accessibility has to extend beyond its walls. Due to the country’s rapid growth, many facilities are not pedestrian-friendly. Navigating streets, shops and other public places can be a challenge even for the able-bodied. Pavement surfaces are often uneven, aisles in shops can be narrow and full of obstacles, signage can be vague and, where they exist, ramps sometimes don’t comply with standards on width and gradient.

Many of the challenges are being addressed, especially in the transport sector. In June, Abu Dhabi taxi regulator TransAD launched a fleet of wheelchair-ready vehicles; Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority is looking at regulations to make all school buses accessible; and international airports offer facilities and assistance for people with disabilities, as does the Dubai Metro. But it is clear that there is work to be done – and that requires a change in mindset. Facilities should be designed with accessibility and inclusiveness in mind, not retrofitted.

Attending to the needs of tourists is, of course, important – especially as the UAE looms larger on the global travel horizon – but the nation has a foremost duty to its citizens and residents to provide amenities for everybody, regardless of impairment. All moves in this direction are welcome.