Yesterday, Abu Dhabi launched an ambitious strategy to make the emirate an even more welcoming place for People of Determination. Thirty new initiatives will be launched over the course of five years to bridge the gap in terms of health, education, governance and other fields, to ensure that those living with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else.
The comprehensive strategy reaffirms the UAE’s commitment to uphold “everyone’s right to participate fully and with dignity in our community,” in the words of Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces.
More than 28 local and federal government entities will take part in this drive towards inclusivity, in line with Abu Dhabi’s 2030 plan for the social sector. The new plan has five main objectives: to empower People of Determination, integrate them fully into society, give them more rights, ensure they have access to high-quality services and develop a sustainable community.
The landmark strategy is the latest in a series of initiatives launched on a local and nationwide level to encourage parity in the UAE. This is also in keeping with the legacy of the Abu Dhabi Special Olympics World Summer Games, a major sporting event for people with intellectual disabilities, that took place last year in the capital. The Special Olympics were not merely a one-time event. The games brought together more than 7,000 athletes and 20,000 volunteers from 200 countries, giving the impetus for long-term positive change in the country.
According to data by the World Bank, 15 per cent of the world's population has some form of disability. In the absence of a safe and supportive environment for people with special needs or physical ailments, an entire segment of society risks being marginalised and denied equal opportunity when it comes to education, employment and access to basic needs.
For instance, 93 per cent of Emiratis of Determination are unemployed, said Hessa Buhumaid, Minister for Community Development, in a statement last year. Raising awareness is pivotal to shatter stereotypes about People of Determination and counter the discrimination they may face every day.
While government action is required to instil change, it is also our collective responsibility to fight stigma around this topic and change prevailing attitudes.
Authorities are working to empower people with mental or physical disabilities, and grant them equal opportunities, but the private sector must also make them feel welcome in the workplace. Attitudes already appear to be changing. According to a survey organised last year by the Special Olympics, two-thirds of UAE residents believe that people with intellectual disabilities should be employed alongside others who do not have special needs.
Abu Dhabi’s latest initiative is a step towards equality. Although the UAE, along with the rest of the world, is battling a pandemic and a global recession, building communities that offer equal opportunities to all remains an important goal on the country's agenda.
If the coronavirus pandemic has taught the world anything, it is that we must protect all segments of society if we are to overcome the global health crisis. No one must be left behind. This lesson is the cornerstone of any effective coronavirus response. It should also be a core value for inclusive, post-pandemic societies.