x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Community gains by helping families with disabled children

Financial security and planning for a disabled child is a constant concern for many. Fortunately, there is a socially responsible financial organisation in Abu Dhabi that recognises the impact of this type of situation on parents, writes Manar Al Hinai.

Financial security is key for the disabled. Pawan Singh / The National
Financial security is key for the disabled. Pawan Singh / The National

Many of my friends celebrate Mother's Day and Father's Day.

Sure, these days often mean wonderful celebrations and offer us the chance to thank our parents. But for many parents, and particularly for those with children who have disabilities, it is a bittersweet recognition, and a reminder of a financial challenge that they yet have to overcome.

A relative of mine has a son who will never be able to earn a living, manage his finances or live independently.

Mohammed has a minor cognitive disability as a result of a medical mishap, and my relative now worries constantly about his financial future and security.

Yes, his siblings will help to take care of him, and the government will always provide him an allowance. However, this does not relieve my relative'sconcerns. As a mother, she will always worry, and she wants to be assured that Mohammed will always have more than he needs in case things go wrong.

Rather than waiting for a miracle to secure a good revenue-generating investment, she has established a small business, with all profits directed to her son's bank account. Her constant worry has become the passion that drives her successful business.

This might have worked for my relative, but for many others, financial security and planning for a disabled child is still - and will always be - a constant concern. They might not be blessed with a wealth of financial knowledge and cannot afford the services of a financial expert.

Luckily, I have just come across a socially responsible financial organisation in Abu Dhabi that recognises the impact of this type of situation on parents. The organisation is providing financial advice to the families of children enrolled in one of Abu Dhabi's disability centres, as part of its corporate social responsibility initiatives.

After hearing about this, I wondered, "what if every bank and financial organisation in the UAE offered some financial planning advice to families with disabled children free of charge, as one way to give back to the community?"

One thing is certain - parents of such children would not be worrying as much as they do.

Such social issues have long interested me, and inspired an expedition to find interesting examples of providers in this area.

My search led me to Mary Anne Ehlert, the founder of Protectedtomorrows.com, a website based in the United States but tailored to an international audience.

Ms Ehlert has dedicated her life to creating a system for families of disabled children. Passion and personal experience led her to create the website.

The need to deal with financial planning for her disabled sister encouraged her to design a simple manual containing important financial information.

Since then, the site has grown to become a broad planning programme to benefit disabled people. Through Protectedtomorrows.com, Ms Elhert has realised that many families are of humble means.

She has created a computer program that costs US$129 (Dh473.80) to get started, plus an annual fee of $29. The program helps parents or care providers to think through all the decisions and planning needed on behalf of disabled children, such as who will be the future trustees or care providers, and what happens when one of the parents dies.

Given the increasing numbers of disabled children, there is a growing need for this kind of financial planning.

Autism, for instance, is one of the fastest growing developmental disorders in the world - and one that has no recognised cure. It heavily affects a child's future and could break the bank for some families that cannot afford the cost of therapy.

Helping families to secure a financial future for disabled children does not necessarily entail that much. Any aid from financial organisations, whether it is assistance in creating a lifetime financial plan or offering free public financial advice seminars, can prove a boon.

After all, this is not only the parents' responsibility, but also the community's.

Manar Al Hinai is an Emirati fashion designer and writer. She can be followed on Twitter @manar_alhinai