The new taxis designed for passengers with limited mobility, now in service in Abu Dhabi, are the latest in a growing list of services and programmes made available to people with special needs, across the emirate and throughout the country.
Modern, sophisticated societies around the world have moved steadily forward in extending services to those with physical or mental limitations, and the UAE is no exception. Through much of history, those with limited mobility or other handicaps have too often been shut away and forgotten. This approach, neither humane nor rewarding, is now starting to fade away.
The taxis are a good example. They aren't cheap - the six Mercedes vans - more are to follow - cost Dh250,000 each. But they are practical: each can accommodate a wheelchair user, three other passengers and their luggage. The 24 drivers, including eight women, have been trained to assist their passengers.
As Dr Ahmed Al Omran, an adviser to the Ministry of Social Affairs, noted, the taxis are part of a continuing programme to implement accessibility guidelines contained in federal law.
And indeed, announcement of the new taxis follows a series of positive initiatives across the UAE in recent months, including these: moves in Dubai to ensure that school buses can transport pupils with disabilities; federal guidelines to help people with reduced mobility in using airports; a contest for the design of smartphone apps to help students with special needs; a project to fund research into undiagnosed developmental disorders in children; facilities for special-needs adults and children in Sharjah and Ajman; two Dubai beaches that provide access to people with disabilities; and a nationwide programme to increase the level of inclusion of special-needs students in mainstream schools.
Different levels of government, commercial sponsors, the Zayed Higher Organisation for Humanitarian Care and Special Needs, and charities such as the Al Jalila Foundation have all contributed to these projects, but everyone in society can contribute to the changes in attitudes that are essential to full integration of special-needs individuals.
There is more to be done, as anybody who has had to negotiate Abu Dhabi on foot, let alone in a wheelchair, will know. But the reward, for the whole society, is well worth the effort.