From the limited accessibility to public places and facilities to having to deal with people’s empathetic looks, people with special needs said the UAE has come a long way in recognizing and meeting their rights.
Naseeb Obaid, a senior draftsman at Dubai Municipality since 1998 and a Paralympics champ, has been diagnosed with polio that caused him a difficulty in walking. He said he never imagined UAE would reach that far in changing attitudes towards the special needs in a relatively short period of time.
On the sidelines of the 45th National Day celebrations at the municipality, he pointed at the flag in his hand and said, “This flag means a lot to me. It reminds me of my persistence, of the challenges I have undertaken for this country.”
“During the 1990s leading up to early 2000s, no one knew us or noticed us. They didn’t know the challenges we have to face in our daily lives, what our need are, or what services we should be offered,” said Obaid.
Walking with crutches, he said he faced difficulties moving around public places and buildings that were not equipped for the special needs.
“We were asked to wait in the queue just like anybody else. Having to climb the stairs due to the absence of ramps in public places caused a health issue to most of the physically-challenged community.”
For Obaid, he had to prove his abilities through sports. He was nominated for the finals in Atlanta 1996 Summer Paralympics, before winning seventh place in the 400m race
Later as Obaid met His Highness Dr Shaikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, he promised to come back home with a medal in the next Olympics.
Obaid became the first UAE national to win a silver medal in the 400m for the Sydney 2000 Summer Paralympics
With the issuing of the Federal Law No. (29) of 2006 to protect the rights of people with special needs, and as Dubai is aiming to be one of the world’s most disabled-friendly cities by 2020, Obaid couldn’t be prouder.
“What we have become goes back to our wise leadership and their constant recognition and encouragement to us,” said Obaid.
“Now we have our impact and respect in the community, all thanks to our government that believed in us.”
Dubai Municipality currently has over 70 employees of different physical and mental challenges, each provided with equipped offices and facilities. Customer service representatives are trained to deal with special needs.
“They even learned the sign language and were trained to educate their colleagues,” said Obaid.
He pointed to the parking spots for special needs that are available everywhere. The city’s infrastructure and free services provide the disabled with the life they’re aspiring to have.
And as His Highness Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, recently honored the UAE Paralympics team who won seven gold, silver and bronze medals at the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Obaid said the recognition only shows the strong support.
Now when the national anthem plays during international ceremonies, the country’s sons and daughters look up and feel the sense of belonging and achievement.
“The image of the flag is in our minds no matter where we go. We are behind our wise leadership that aspires to be the top in everything we do,” said Obaid.
And for Obaid, the future is even brighter. “We hope that Dubai is number one, and that everyone is a friend to the disabled. We are looking forward to see 100 per cent inclusion in our schools and the workplace.”