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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 17 February 2019

Dubai's special needs ruling offers an important lesson in inclusivity

Making schools fully accessible by 2020 will help to create a diverse and compassionate new generation

By 2020 Dubai private schools will be fully accessible to people of all abilities. Getty Images  
By 2020 Dubai private schools will be fully accessible to people of all abilities. Getty Images  

All children should have every opportunity to make the most of their natural abilities. That is the inarguable idea behind the Knowledge and Human Development Authority’s ruling that all of Dubai’s private schools must cater for children with special needs by 2020, and another important step in the UAE’s journey to becoming a fully inclusive society. Since 2017, throughout the UAE the word “disabled” has been replaced by the empowering phrase “people of determination”. These latest steps will be welcomed by many parents who see their children’s courage every day.

Some have struggled to meet the costs of learning assistants or therapists to support their child. Others have even been unable to find school places for them. All that will now change. Every teacher must be trained to work with pupils of determination and, where extra support is required, costs will be limited. Society at large stands to gain from the recognition that all children come into this world with different needs. By their very nature, schools already deal with a broad spectrum of abilities and widening that range just a little further will allow a richer and more diverse group of young people to enjoy exactly the same educational experiences. In a year when the UAE is celebrating the values of inclusivity, this sends an important message.

After all, some of the world’s great scientists and writers have succeeded despite facing physical challenges and learning difficulties. Take, for example, the late theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, who lived for decades with motor neurone disease and the Irish author Christy Brown, who was paralysed by cerebral palsy. Meanwhile, the 19th-century French writer Gustave Flaubert, author of Madame Bovary, struggled with dyslexia, which he described as “the handicap of being born with a special language to which I alone have the key”. This is not to trivialise the hurdles some children have to overcome, but to emphasise that it is a dreadful mistake to consign any child to a limiting category. This alone is a valuable lesson for a new generation that will go out into the world as ambassadors for the UAE and its values of equality, understanding and mutual respect.

Updated: January 27, 2019 08:03 PM

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