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Career vision helps blind lawyer find post

Ahmed Al Omran serves as an adviser at the Ministry of Social affairs, shaping disability law and advocating for people with special needs.

DUBAI //Ahmed Al Omran once had dreams of being a judge or law professor.

Although those dreams did not materialise, he did secure a position that enables him to promote the rights of people with disabilities.

The 32-year-old Emirati has a PhD in law and serves as an adviser to the Ministry of Social Affairs' department of welfare and rehabilitation of persons with disabilities, where he is reviewing the country's 2006 law on the rights of people with special needs.

Unlike his twin brother Mohammed, Dr Al Omran was born with optic nerve hypoplasia, a medical condition that results in the underdevelopment of the optic nerve and left him blind.

"My mum was having medical treatment, which had an adverse impact on my sight," he said.

From the age of two, his parents spent seven years travelling to far-flung locations - Russia, Germany, Switzerland, the UK and Belgium - seeking treatment or cures.

"The comprehensive medical report was also sent to Japan," he said.

"So far, there is no medical treatment for it."

All these years later, Dr Al Omran is not one for self-pity.

"I'm lucky to have well-educated parents and a supportive family," he said.

His parents, who have retired, did not have any favourites when he and his three siblings were young, he said, and refused to make allowances for his disability.

His father was an adviser at the Ministry of Public Works for 30 years, his mother a director of a school in Sharjah.

"I was punished more often than my siblings, usually for lying," he joked.

The vice president of the Emirates Association of the Blind in Sharjah, Adel Al Zamar, has known Dr Al Omran since 1994.

Last December, the association honoured Dr Al Omran for having obtained a doctorate in law from the UK.

"He is a good example for other blind persons," Mr Al Zamar said. "He has a very good character, encouraged others to study well and is an active board member of the association."

Dr Al Omran is married to Asma, 27, a former public relations executive at a university.

They have two daughters, Sheikha, 4, and six-month-old Mariam.

His job also takes him to different organisations such as the Association of the Disabled People's Parents in Sharjah to raise public awareness about the disabled, their rights and accessibility issues.

Like many people who have special needs, the road to securing a meaningful position was long and full of obstacles.

After completing high school at the Institute for the Blind in Riyadh in 1995, he stayed in the city and went on to earn a bachelor's degree in law at Al Imam Mohammed bin Saud University, finishing in 2000.

He also has a master's degree in law from that university's Institute for Advance Legal Studies, which prepares judges who decide on inheritance and related areas of the law.

He spent 18 months after completing his master's degree looking for a job, with no luck.

"It was frustrating," he said. "It was dominated by non-disabled people.

"They said 'we are fully convinced by your qualification, but we don't have the means to accommodate your needs'."

He was even hired for one job, and paid a salary, but was not given any real work.

He suspected his superiors did not think he could do it.

"They should know that we are able to do a real job and they had to raise awareness about the rights of people with disabilities," he said. "I didn't find a co-operative environment and resigned after seven or eight months."

After spending at least 14 years studying, he wanted to be hired on merit - not as an example.

By 2004 he was frustrated and headed back to higher education for several years. He earned his PhD in law from the University of Essex last May.

"Many students are hampered by a lack of accessibility," he said.

"In my university, in terms of accessibility, they were willing to accommodate the needs of students with special needs. I had access to materials and the library."

His thesis was about promoting the right to work of disabled people in the UAE.

"But I didn't do it because of my experience," he said.

"The best thing is for me to get a degree in an important subject that will be helpful in the future."

He was employed by the Ministry of Social Affairs this year.



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