DUBAI // Rashid Saaed al Marzouqi was deprived of oxygen for the first two minutes of his life. Although it was just seconds, it was enough to create a lasting gap between him and the rest of his generation.
The 25-year-old Emirati was left with cerebral palsy caused by brain damage, meaning he has impaired muscle movement and co-ordination, as well as a limited IQ. But after spending nearly all of his life in a special care home, he now has a full-time job with the Government. He is the first to come through a new programme set up by the Community Development Authority (CDA), aimed specifically at getting jobs for Emiratis with disabilities.
Dr Eman Gaad, the director of disabilities at the CDA, devised and implemented the programme, which, he said, was essential for a cohesive society. "We need to invest in Emirati nationals, all of them. We cannot dump some because they have disabilities," he said. "For a society to function we must support everyone in it and realise that everyone has their own use, their own talents to contribute."
According to Dr Gaad, there are 3,341 UAE nationals registered with disabilities in Dubai, and a large percentage of them are employable. But there was still a lack of awareness about how to include them in mainstream society, a problem the programme ElKayt, launched on May 19, was designed to address. ElKayt, which is a Khaleeji word for a small boat generally tied to the side of a larger ship, was authorised by the Social Care sector of the Government of Dubai. Sheikh Maktoum bin Butti Al Maktoum, the chief executive, said the outcomes of such social inclusion were twofold.
It relieves the burden of financial support, replacing the Dh4,000 (US$1,089) registered disabled people get every month from the Ministry of Social Affairs with a salary they earn. "Secondly, and more importantly, if he is successful in that job, he will be able to add to the community," he said. "He will help to change the social stigma that is still attached to people with disabilities and help by supporting more people like himself."
Mr al Marzouqi entered ElKayt as a pilot case three months ago. After he was approved by the Dubai Centre for Special Needs, the CDA assessed his skills and weaknesses before drawing up a plan for any needed vocational training, language support or IT help. Mr al Marzouqi was taken on in the CDA itself, Dr Gaad's way of "leading by example". He began his month's trial as an administrative assistant, taking care of simple paperwork and answering the phone. Under the guidance of a mentor, he began to expand his duties.
After two months, he was given a contract and a regular salary. These days, he helps to assess the new ElKayt candidates' skills and advises other staff on what work environments would suit them. "At first it was difficult to change my routine as I had been a student for 23 years, but now it is no problem," said Mr al Marzouqi. "I love my job." He wants others to see that he is capable of work. "Sometimes I can't do things other people take for granted," he said. "Like, if the stairs don't have a rail, I have to get on my hands and knees to climb them. But people with disabilities have strengths, too. Even though God might have taken one thing away from us, he has given us a lot of other talents, too."
Dr Gaad hopes that 15 Emiratis a year can be integrated under her plan, with a steady stream of those with disabilities taken on by the corporate sector. Since the programme launched, the CDA has taken on two more employees - a blind man in the call centre and a deaf woman working as a photographer. Other placements include an autistic man with epilepsy who is working as a mechanic for Al Ghandi Motors.
Dr Gaad hopes the programme can eventually change attitudes towards those with disabilities. "At the moment, as the name of the programme suggests, people like Rashid are similar to the unnoticeable small boat detached from the large ship of the greater community," she said. "We are all so busy with our lives on the big ship that we don't take a moment to pause and think about others. I suppose I am trying to promote that it is OK to take longer to think about something, longer to walk to a place or to take more time to produce a document."
As well as running the ElKayt programme, the CDA has a centre for early childhood development and is working with the Knowledge and Human Development Authority Dubai, the educational regulatory authority for Dubai schools, colleges, and universities, to implement a merit system for institutions that welcome people with disabilities. "There are daily challenges," said Dr Gaad, who is also a lecturer in special needs education at the British University in Dubai.
"But we are getting the ball rolling. Hopefully soon the whole attitude towards disabilities will shift and we will become a more integrated society." @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org