x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Let each person in the UAE learn to live up to full potential

Employers have an opportunity to help society, as well as themselves, by finding worthwhile employment for young adults with special needs.

Yesterday The National published heartwarming descriptions of the good work being done at a Dubai centre for special needs students. The school, the Special Needs Future Development Centre, in Karama, has helped its young students to acquire skills and - equally importantly - a sense of self-worth through contributing to society. But the positive message should also remind us there is more to be done in our society.

"Special needs" is a broad term for children and adults who may have physical challenges, such as visual or hearing impairments, as well as those with learning difficulties, sometimes due to genetic conditions such as Down syndrome. The sheer range of challenges the term covers means that centres like the one in Karama are always overstretched.

Children with special needs require help to develop the basic skills that can allow them to function, even if in a limited way, in society. Some require patient help to master the very basics - of hygiene, for example - whereas others can learn skills so that they can eventually enter the workforce.

Yet often the problem is prejudice from those without such challenges, and lack of interest on the part of companies whose leaders may simply be unaware of the opportunities offered by employing these people.

For young adults with special needs, much more can be done. Few societies anywhere have proved - so far - to be particularly good at integrating these young people into the economy. There is often stigma associated unfairly with medical conditions, and uncertainty about dealing with those who are evidently different in their ability level.

Yet as Safia Bari, the centre's director, points out: "We need companies, hotels to come forward to take on these youngsters in internships or part-time jobs."

This is an opportunity for employers to look up from their balance sheets and meet a social responsibility. Being able to work is not merely about contributing to the country's economy; it also gives the individuals huge amounts of self-worth.

And the barriers to such work are dwindling: with modern technology, there are fewer and fewer reasons why young adults with special needs cannot contribute to a company's bottom line as well.

One school - and other current efforts across the country - are a good start, but what would be really heartwarming would be opportunities for every individual to fulfil his or her potential as a member of society.