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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 12 December 2018

Call for volunteers to join campaign to make Dubai more wheelchair friendly

Ramp Day on Saturday in Dubai help will pinpoint areas that need slopes to ensure accessibility for all

Shobhika Kalra, founder of Wings Of Angelz, who uses a wheelchair and the metro to get around in Dubai. Satish Kumar / The National
Shobhika Kalra, founder of Wings Of Angelz, who uses a wheelchair and the metro to get around in Dubai. Satish Kumar / The National

Identifying public spaces that are not wheelchair accessible is on the agenda for volunteers from the Wings of Angelz advocacy group on Saturday.

The group has urged Dubai’s residents to join them in an accessibility drive in Dubai on Saturday evening as part of Ramp Day, which is organised twice a year in the emirate to spread awareness about inclusion.

“The more people that can join us the better because then more people will understand the challenges people in wheelchairs face,” said Shobhika Kalra, founder of the group that has helped build more than 750 ramps in Dubai over the past four years.

“People don’t have to be regular volunteers, they can just join us for a day to look around and find locations that don’t have ramps.”

The last Ramp Day was held in October last year when students and professionals got together to raise awareness about the need for accessibility for all.

How it works

Volunteers divide into groups to locate spots with high footpaths near public transport networks, parks, cinema theatres, residential areas, restaurants, hospitals, schools that require dropped curbs and ramps for easy access for people who use wheelchairs, the elderly and also mothers using prams.

“We ask people who join us to take down details of the location where they feel a ramp will be useful. We fill this in our database and our regular volunteers will follow-up with authorities and managers of private or government companies depending on who needs to be contacted,” said Ms Kalra, who is in a wheelchair due to Friedreich’s ataxia, a rare disorder impairing muscle coordination.

The group is hoping to attract more people to the cause, particularly with the overall objective for Dubai to become one of the world’s most disability-friendly cities by 2020.

As per the Dubai Universal Design Code, all new buildings and transportation systems must be designed, constructed and managed to ensure people with disabilities can independently use all facilities.

However, advocacy groups and people with disabilities have often pointed out that while new residential zones and transport hubs have dropped curbs and ramps, older buildings must construct ramps with gentle slopes that can be negotiated independently by wheelchair users.

“Sometimes the connecting section between two footpaths has a really high curb. Some footpaths are so high that I need to ask for help from people nearby to gently put the wheelchair on the path. It should be standard all over then no one needs to ask anyone for help,” said Sherry D’mello on the challenges she faces when taking her daughter to meet friends in the Quasis and Al Nahda areas.

“When we point out places near the metro or bus stops to the authorities, then action is taken and a ramp is built, but the older areas also need to change.”

On Saturday, the group will meet to discuss the areas they will cover. The group has reached out over the past four years to local pharmacies, restaurants, supermarket chains and the Roads and Transport Authority to work together to make the city accessible.

Experts say this will impart much needed independence for people with disabilities.

“The idea is that a person in a wheelchair or an elderly person should be able to travel on her own from their residence to workplace without requesting help from anybody,” Ms Kalra said.

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“They should also be able to leave their work and go out with friends to any place without having someone pull up their wheelchair because the footpath is so high.”

Authorities have earlier said that hotels, tourism centres and transport networks must join forces to position Dubai and the UAE as an accessible destination by listening to the issues raised by people with disabilities.

A unified public works approach with government departments being given the responsibility of inclusion is part of the goal leading to 2020.

Authorities have also announced plans to retrofit schools, hospitals and public areas that were built earlier to ensure access for all in buildings and transportation services.

Volunteers can meet up to be part of this year’s first Ramp Day on Saturday at 5.30pm near the main entrance of Mercato Mall parking lot. More details about the campaign are on the WingsOfAngelz Facebook page.