Clear the obstacles for special needs

Including the disabled in society is just the right thing to do, but it's not easy and requires a conscious effort by everyone.

Federal law, municipal regulations and charitable foundations all work together to make life easier and better for those with special needs. But real life keeps getting in the way.

Most neighbourhoods, for example, include pedestrian ways that should provide safe and unobstructed routes for those residents who are obliged to use wheelchairs. But look again: broken sections of pavement, refuse bins and the overflow from them, construction detritus, abandoned furniture, excavation works large and small, poorly placed traffic signs, murky malodorous puddles, free-standing advertising pillars, mysterious drab-coloured utility boxes, unreasonably steep ramps or none at all, paving stones left from long-forgotten projects - all of these too often turn normal stretches of pavement into daunting obstacle courses even for the fit.

For many disabled people, pavements are completely impassable.

Wheelchairs are one good example, but disability comes in many forms. Each brings its own challenges not only in mobility but, in one form or another, to full participation in society. And in an era when skills are in short supply, anything that tends to exclude some individuals from participating fully does double damage, first to the individual, and second to the whole society.

To be sure, many disabled people have severe or permanent conditions that mean they will always need a high level of care, in shelter homes for example. But for many others, modern engineering is creating a panoply of devices and techniques to open doors - from a computer mouse controlled by eye movements to "sip and puff" technology allowing people with little or no use of their hands to control a motorised wheelchair. In addition, government agencies and non-government groups such as the Dubai-based nonprofit Butterfly Foundation work to steer special-needs individuals to the programmes and tools that will be of use.

But decrees and devices and direction can do only so much. A story in The National this week had a telling quote: "People … see someone disabled and they look at them in horror," said MA, who has been disabled since youth.

The message is clear: the work of integrating our neighbours and family members into the life of the community, so evidently the right thing to do, requires all of us to find our resolve and lend a hand.

Published: August 31, 2011 04:00 AM


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