Abu Dhabi support group helps disabled people make their mark in the workplace

The Butterfly works with families and businesses to boost inclusivity

Marilena di Coste, founder of The Butterfly, says it is a 'one-stop shop' for people of determination and their families. Victor Besa / The National
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An organisation in Abu Dhabi is on a mission to empower people with disabilities and help them to advance in the workplace.

The Butterfly, an advocacy group, is helping to answer the call of disabled people eager to bolster their independence. The group also wants to ensure that businesses are ready to deliver on pledges to be inclusive.

Marilena di Coste, who founded the group, said it was vital for companies to adopt an open-minded approach to integrate staff members of all backgrounds.

The Butterfly recently launched its Inclusive Employment Ecosystem to achieve this goal, with leading companies backing the project.

“Almost every week I get a call from a parent or a person of determination asking for help in finding work," Ms di Coste said.

My dream is to see a beautiful movement where we can all work together
Marilena di Coste

"It isn’t enough for companies to say that they are inclusive. We want them to walk the talk. We give them a road map to follow and measure outcomes. We also have tailored solutions.

Working together for shared vision

“Every company tries to do its best on its own, which is great, but we think more good can happen if everyone can join forces — to join forces not only at a corporate level but to foster a dialogue with the public sector as well.

“We are trying to connect the private sector, the public sector and the authorities together because if we come across something that requires a legislative change, then it can be done quickly.

"It doesn’t have to be fragmented. My dream is to see a beautiful movement where we can all work together to care for people of determination.”

The Butterfly charges an an annual leadership fee and every month holds online seminars and discussions to support employers in catering for disabled workers.

Their first members were major employers Siemens Energy, e& and Standard Chartered.

Ms di Coste has witnessed the progress made in promoting the rights of people of determination in recent years.

She moved to the Emirates in 2011, determined to support people with disabilities.

She hit some bumps in the road initially, before making a significant breakthrough in 2019.

“All I can say, is that the market wasn’t ready but I was determined and I persisted,” she said.

The Butterfly won key funding in 2019 from a social incubator programme operated by Maan, the Authority of Social Contribution.

This was established by the Department of Community Development in Abu Dhabi to encourage the development of concepts and start-up projects that help people with disabilities tackle the issues they face in their communities.

“I chose the term 'butterfly' because when it flaps its wings at one part of the world, it creates a ripple in another part of the world,” Ms di Coste said.

The Butterfly is a “one-stop shop” for people of determination and their families, she said.

The group offers guidance to people and companies on the best ways to support and include people of determination.

“Say you have a child who was involved in a car crash and had sustained a brain injury and you don’t know what to do. We can support you and guide you, instead of going left and right,' she said.

It also supports parents by helping them with school applications.

“We will give you a list of inclusive schools and if you are rejected then we will go with you,” she said.

“We add voice to people who are vulnerable and are the link between them and the authorities.”

There are 180 families registered with The Butterfly. The children of about 80 per cent of them have autism.

In April 2021, the Cabinet approved the National Policy for People with Autism, in line with wider efforts to support people with disabilities.

The policy set out ways to provide people with autism with easy access to services, to ensure their inclusion in education and wider society, and to train more qualified professionals while bolstering community awareness.

The policy comprises 14 initiatives across five pillars — diagnosis, health care, human resources, inclusive education, and community awareness and empowerment.

Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, Crown Prince of Dubai, said the emirate was focused on delivering the “highest quality of services” to people with disabilities after visiting the Dubai Autism Centre in March.

Updated: August 11, 2022, 6:50 AM