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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 18 November 2018

UAE 'relentlessly' focused on supporting disabled people

Community development minister outlines new policy to protect disabled people from neglect

Hessa Buhumaid, Minister of Community Development, is helping to ready Abu Dhabi for 7,000 Special Olympics visitors. Khushnum Bhandari / The National
Hessa Buhumaid, Minister of Community Development, is helping to ready Abu Dhabi for 7,000 Special Olympics visitors. Khushnum Bhandari / The National

The UAE is rapidly advancing its support for disabled people as part of a wider effort to nurture a culture of tolerance and respect, Minister of Community Development Hessa Buhumaid told an audience on Tuesday.

Ms Buhumaid said her ministry was currently working on a comprehensive policy that sought to protect those with disabilities from abuse and neglect. A vital part of this would be co-operation with local and federal authorities to prevent abuse, enable early detection, and provide access to optimal rehabilitation methods for those affected.

The UAE “works relentlessly to provide equal opportunities for people of determination to take on positions of responsibility, including their inclusion into leadership programmes, youth councils and other volunteer activities that allow them to contribute to the community,” she said.

Ms Buhumaid was speaking in London at the world’s first Global Disability Summit of governments, activists and development organisations. The minister was accompanied by Dr Ahmed Alomran, a blind UAE lawyer.

The ministry is also helping disabled people gain access to jobs or social security and financial support for those struggling to gain employment. “One of the key challenges facing decision makers in relation to people of determination is obtaining accurate disability statistics,” said Ms Buhumaid. As such the UAE government has also pushed the creation of a national disabled database, currently with over 18,000 registered users, to “enable people of determination to access the full spectrum of dedicated services and exercise their rights,” she added.

The development minister was one of many at the summit in an effort to bring together world leaders and key development charities to help improve the prospects for impaired people. Many brought up the 17 sustainable development goals targeted by 2030 — including no poverty and zero hunger.

With the UAE due to host the high-profile World Special Olympics next year, the minister also revealed new details about the build-up. Abu Dhabi has ramped up preparations for the summer 2019 Special Olympics as it readies itself for the arrival of 7,000 athletes of special determination. Specially prepared transport, a local sign language book and dedicated officials to support disabled visitors are just some of the steps taken as Abu Dhabi gears up to become the first Middle Eastern city to host the Special Olympics. The event differs from the Paralympic Games in that it focuses on those with intellectual disabilities.

At the opening of the London summit, Britain’s international development secretary, Penny Mordaunt, began her speech in sign language before continuing in the spoken word. “Today we focus on moving from words to action; working together as partners; and holding ourselves and each other to account for our promises,” she said, after ending her initial sign language introduction.

Ms Mordaunt said the UK and aid partners would launch a raft of policies, including one that would enable more people to access assistive technology such as wheelchairs, prosthetics, hearing aids and glasses.

Ms Mordaunt said the legacy of the event would be a 10-point Charter for Change would commit signatories to “ensure the rights, freedoms, dignity and inclusion for persons with disabilities.” Signing the charter is not mandatory for attending the event.

At present only 10 per cent of the 1 billion people in the world who need assistive products and services have access to them but Ms Mordaunt put a target of 500 million being reached by 2030. The focus on assistive technologies was underlined by UK prime minister Theresa May, who sent a pre-recorded video. Disability is only barrier to achievement is society lets it be. Let’s transform access to “life saving technology.”

The UK will also collaborate with local organisations in small communities to help people with disabilities into employment in parts of the developing world in a policy known as UK Aid Connect.

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The summit has attracted wider attention surround the presence of Ecuador’s wheelchair-bound President Lenin Moreno.

The only disabled state leader, Mr Moreno was lauded by those attended as a fantastic example of what could be achieved. His office, however, was forced to deny rumours he would expel WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who has sought refuge at Ecuadorean Embassy since June 2012 from authorities.

Mr Moreno’s speech was also cut short because he ran out of time.