x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Adults with special needs underserved

Special needs adults in the UAE need facilities and job opportunities if they are to be successfully integrated into society.

Much has been said about the necessity to improve the lives of children with special needs and address obstacles to their social integration. Such obstacles include ending the stigma that often leads families to isolate them from society.

But the story of Hasan Al Mofti, a 23-year-old disabled Iraqi who cannot find outlets to engage in activity, sheds new light on another aspect of special-needs members of UAE society: a shortage of outlets for adults to engage in activities, improve their skills, find camaraderie and integrate into the world around them.

Children with learning or developmental disabilities have options and support networks. But according to Eman Gaad, a special education expert in Dubai, many who are supported in their youth fall through the cracks once they turn 18.

Legally being declared an adult does not mean people with disabilities are suddenly able to fend for themselves. There is still a need for public-sector support. At the very basic level, governments can improve access to buildings where the disabled may work, live or play. Mobility, which so many of us take for granted, is a critical hurdle.

It is often wrongly assumed that handicapped members of society are unable to care for themselves. This is obviously not always true, but they do need extra assistance navigating the world. Many also crave social interaction, which is why there is a pressing need for adult group homes or social centres where adults can interact. Ride shares or handicapped-accessible shuttle services, common in many parts of the world, have not caught on here. It is time they did.

The experience of Mr Al Mofti, which The National reports on today, is instructive in this regard. Two years ago, he had no difficulty joining social groups to make friends. But when his family moved to Abu Dhabi from New Zealand he found few outlets to engage in sports and social activities. Today his days are filled with television, and waiting for his mother to return from work.

"They will be stuck with the family to look after them," says Ms Gaad. "Or they tend to rely on video games and spend hours with machines."

The UAE has done much to address the social and physical needs of younger people with disabilities. There is no reason these gains should end with childhood.