Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 22 May 2019

The wheels are in motion to make the UAE truly inclusive for all

Campaigners, developers and authorities should work together to improve accessibility

Shobhika Kalra, co-founder of Wings of Angelz, at the Mall of Emirates in Dubai . Satish Kumar / The National
Shobhika Kalra, co-founder of Wings of Angelz, at the Mall of Emirates in Dubai . Satish Kumar / The National

Since 2017, signs in the UAE indicating wheelchair access in locations from airports to beaches have dropped the word “disabled” in favour of the more empowering phrase “people of determination”. The inspired signs have altered perceptions. People in wheelchairs are no longer seen as being less able but rather, as possessing qualities that imbue them with the determination to get on with their lives, regardless of their circumstances. One such person is 28-year-old Shobhika Kalra, a Dubai resident who was diagnosed with a genetic condition as a teenager and whose campaign to improve accessibility for fellow wheelchair users across the UAE and beyond has now been honoured in her native India. Wings of Angelz, a campaign group co-founded by Ms Kalra in 2014, has achieved a tremendous amount, including the installation of more than 1,000 access ramps across Dubai. Such community champions play a vital role in highlighting issues that those responsible for the fabric of our cities sometimes fail to appreciate.

But while accessibility for all might not always have been at the top of the fast-growing UAE’s to-do list, much has changed over the past few years. Ms Kalra was inspired in part by an initiative called "my community, a city for everyone”, launched in 2013 by Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, the Crown Prince of Dubai, to make the city fully accessible by 2020. The phrase people of determination was adopted and has been embraced by many such initiatives since, including this year's Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi.

There is still much to do. Accessibility remains an afterthought for many developers but must be incorporated in new buildings, shops and public spaces. Owners of older properties should be encouraged to make their buildings wheelchair-friendly. By working together, groups such as Wings of Angelz and a government responsive to the needs of every visitor and resident can help the UAE become a truly inclusive nation, welcoming to all.

Updated: February 19, 2019 04:13 PM

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