x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Disabled 'could learn from Arab Spring'

Summit hears use of social networks could greatly improve lives.

SHARJAH // The disabled should learn from the use of Twitter and Facebook during the Arab Spring how to change the way they are treated in society, an expert says.

"The Arab Spring told us it was really important to use social media as a tool to achieve change," said Mohammed Al Nabulsi, supervisor of the scientific committee for a three-day conference on social media and the disabled, which started in Sharjah yesterday.

"We know very well how social media can change a lot of things in our communities."

The event, which has attracted speakers and delegates from all over the Arab world, is being held by Sharjah City for Humanitarian Services, a centre that supports the disabled.

"Not all countries need that kind of spring but we need another kind of spring," Mr Al Nabulsi said.

"We need this kind of change in our community to give disabled people their rights. What we want is to use social media as a tool to make this kind of change."

He said that while the Government could introduce a law to help the disabled, it would not be able to change attitudes by itself.

"We want to use social media to activate the community and make such a law real, not just words on paper, and help the UAE to make a better future for people with disabilities," Mr Al Nabulsi said.

Sheikha Jameela bint Mohammed Al Qasimi, the director general of Sharjah City for Humanitarian Services, said social networks were transforming the lives of the disabled.

"A lot of people with disabilities use social media," Sheikha Jameela said. "Some are photographers, some are bloggers and some are on Twitter all the time.

"If they have severe physical disabilities and cannot move around a lot, or do not have transport all the time, they are at home with their laptop."

She said social media provided opportunities other than opening up people's lives.

"We as people working with the disabled … or people with disabilities themselves, need a voice," Sheikha Jameela said.

"With social media we can reach many people, not only in numbers but in geographic locations.

"We can reach far away places. We can reach many people who are not aware of what we're doing here in the Emirates."

Despite the benefits of social networks, there are drawbacks that the disabled face along with the rest of society.

Mukhtar Al Rawahi, president of the Oman Paralympic Committee, uses Facebook, but said: "I'm scared of Facebook. It just eats up too much time."

csimpson@thenational.ae