Abu Dhabi to host UAE's first conference on special needs

The forum of international academics and medical specialists will discuss increasing inclusion of special-needs people in schools and workplaces.

Shereen Al Nuwais, corporate social responsibility specialist at Adnoc, says the group is proud to sponsor the country's first international conference on special needs and disabilities. Sarah Dea / The National
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DUBAI // The country will hold its first international disabilities and special-needs conference next year to share expertise and discuss ways of increasing inclusion in schools and workplaces.

ABILITIESme will bring academics and medical experts together at Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre, from March 24 to 26.

Abu Dhabi National Oil Company is one of the conference sponsors.

Shereen Al Nuwais, Adnoc's corporate social responsibility specialist, said the group knew the importance of bringing those with special needs into the workforce.

Ms Al Nuwais said Adnoc planned to integrate more special-needs workers through training and employment.

She said Adnoc was working with the Zayed Higher Organisation for Humanitarian Care, which educates and works with special-needs people, to determine the best way to proceed.

"They are helping us plan our new headquarters to be more accessible, with the right elevators, doors, bathrooms and so on, so that we can better engage them with us," Ms Al Nuwais said.

"We do employ only a very limited number of people with special needs and they are mainly physical disabilities, and they work in jobs such as administration, the more simple jobs."

She said the group was pleased to be sponsoring the conference.

"ABILITIESme approached us in March and it was an amazing opportunity for us and we're proud to be a part of it," Ms Al Nuwais said.

"It's important to show that those with special needs must be taken care of and the time is right to be raising the awareness to all kinds of disabilities, not just the physical ones.

"People can notice a disabled person because of their physical disability but we should all be aware of the many kinds of disabilities and special needs."

Jaber Al Lamki, corporate communications manager at Health Authority Abu Dhabi, said people with special needs were a vital part of the community.

"They are in every family. They are someone's daughter, someone's mother, they are a family member," Mr Al Lamki said.

He said the conference would be a chance to "highlight what we can do together".

"We are working now to integrate with different government systems to engage the infrastructure needed for people with special needs," Mr Al Lamki said.

"It's very important we provide them with career opportunities with all the necessary requirements. They need special treatment, special aid and this is very important to us."

Desert Group has a policy to employ those with intellectual disabilities in its nurseries and is another sponsor of the event next year.

The company has 37 staff with special needs, most of them with learning difficulties.

"It's not just a job but a rehabilitation programme," said Reem Al Ghaith, the group's corporate social responsibility manager.

"We have staff with rehabilitation experience and we help the staff progress, with the goal being to get them to be able to work as sales staff.

"So far we have five staff able to successfully complete sales transactions."

The company is planning a sustainable, organic farming project for workers.

"We want to create farmers and entrepreneurs so if they want to leave Desert Group in the future, they can do this in time and get support from the Government to set up their own business," Ms Al Ghaith said.

Mohammed Saeed Harib, creator of the Emirati cartoon Freej, another of the event's partners, has used the show to spread awareness using its characters.

"If I can get a story that can support this I will," Mr Harib said. "We try to integrate people with disabilities into the show.

"It's very important that we make these characters strong in the show. We try to show everyone, every person in society."