Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 24 August 2019

Call for more outdoor activities for people with disabilities

Companies are taking steps to ensure that all areas of society are catered for by making adventure activities more inclusive

Young adults with special needs on a day trip to Al Futaisi island off Abu Dhabi. It was the first outdoor trip without their family for the UAE residents with disabilities. Courtesy Wake Up Adventures  
Young adults with special needs on a day trip to Al Futaisi island off Abu Dhabi. It was the first outdoor trip without their family for the UAE residents with disabilities. Courtesy Wake Up Adventures  

Aid workers and parents of people with intellectual disabilities are calling on organisations to make outdoor activities more inclusive and build on the momentum created by the Special Olympics World Games, which the UAE hosted in March.

“Families said the Special Olympics opened a new door for them,” said Renate Baur-Richter, programme manager at Sedra Foundation – a non-profit organisation in Abu Dhabi that works to include people with disabilities in all areas of UAE society.

She said the Games showed the world what the athletes were capable of but that more could still be done to promote inclusion.

“People tasted inclusion and now they are hungry for more. Parents said they would like more programmes to not only get children but young adults with disabilities involved in other structured activities. There is a huge interest in the outdoors,” she said.

People with disabilities play beach volleyball during an organised outdoor trip. Courtesy Wake Up Adventures
People with disabilities play beach volleyball during an organised outdoor trip. Courtesy Wake Up Adventures

Most people with disabilities are restricted to participating in events organised in a park or sports arenas, she said.

As part of a pilot initiative, Sedra worked with Emirati-­owned adventure company Wake Up Adventures to take 24 people with intellectual disabilities on an evening trip to Abu Dhabi’s Al Futaisi island in February.

Members of the group were aged between 16 and 33 and for many it was their first time away from their parents.

“It was emotional when they told us it made them feel like an adventurer to roam around on the island,” Ms Baur-­Richter said.

“It was a beautiful experience because many had never experienced wildlife, while some had never been in the water or on a boat ride.”

Ms Baur-Richter said that since the tour she had received several inquiries from companies keen to work with people with disabilities.

She said the foundation was willing to work with companies to help them cater to clients with special needs.

“The UAE is a tourist destination and we can join forces in guiding organisations to create more inclusive programmes,” she said.

“It has to be part of a community effort. We can reimagine events to make sure all members of our society enjoy them together.”

As well as ensuring there are suitable bathroom facilities for people with disabilities, Ms Baur-Richter suggested organisers set aside quiet zones for families at crowded events and quick access areas where people with disabilities can meet their parents.

Having the Special Olympics in the UAE motivated Wake Up Adventures founder Bader Lardhi to ensure his company was able to cater to people with disabilities.

The island day trip was only the beginning, he said.

“We plan to do more such events for people of determination,” Mr Lardhi said.

During the tour of Al Futaisi, participants saw wild rabbits and gazelle, petted horses and played volleyball.

They were also taught how to use wood to build a campfire, and roasted marshmallows.

“We had a safety session on how to build a campfire. Then we taught them how to make their own s’mores,” he said, describing a campfire treat made from a marshmallow, chocolate and two crackers.

“It was fun watching them adding the wood by themselves when the fire was low.”

Wake Up Adventures offers a range of experiences in the UAE, include hiking.

“We need to build this up slowly because we need to gain the trust of parents,” Mr Lardhi said.

“We want to create tours where they are not only put on a bus to see sights. We want a person in a wheelchair, for example, to be able to get to even a remote place.”

Parents of people with disabilities said inclusion in outdoor activities will increase independence and self-reliance.

Wafa Al Agad, a mother of twin girls who have learning disabilities, said engaging in activities away from home taught them to be more independent.

“Being away from their parents makes them discover that they are capable of doing new things,” said Ms Al Agad whose daughters Essra and Asma Abu Selmia, 27, were on the island trip in February.

“It improves their personalities because they learn to make decisions, even small ones, away from their parents,” said Ms Al Agad, who lives in Abu Dhabi.

“It is easier to do this in the UAE because the general atmosphere of safety gives you that extra level of trust.”

Updated: June 8, 2019 07:54 PM

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