x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Dubai aims to be best city for special needs

The Dubai Community Development Authority wants to make the city the most accessible in the world for people with special needs.

DUBAI // The Dubai Community Development Authority wants to make the city the most accessible in the world for people with special needs. The new government agency has launched a campaign for infrastructure upgrades to ensure people with special needs can move more freely around streets and buildings. "We want to make Dubai the most accessible city in the world, for everyone," said Dr Maryam Matar, director general of the authority, in an interview.

"At the moment it is difficult for them to get around, and just because you don't see them, it doesn't mean they don't exist," she said in a reference to people with special needs. "It means the area is not equipped for them." The authority has presented a research paper to the Government calling for facilities around the city to be upgraded. "We're not just talking about roads and transportation," Dr Matar said. "We also mean within the buildings - elevators, for example. And when we say special needs, we don't just mean disabilities, but also women who are pregnant, and old people."

The authority is urging the Government to apply the principles of universal design - a framework for the design of living and working spaces, notably to allow those with special needs to live normally - to new and old buildings alike. The principles, which were recently adopted by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, include 30 guidelines to make new and old buildings better for such people, including widening doors and hallways, building ramps instead of staircases, and installing visual and audio facilities for the hard of hearing and visually impaired.

Dr Matar hopes the authority's research paper will spur the Government into action. "Some companies are not waiting before the legislation comes out, and are already implementing their own facilities to cater to people with special needs," she said. Companies such as Nakheel, the developer, and agencies such as the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA), and the Jebel Ali Free Zone Authority, have already introduced user-friendly measures for those with special needs.

Dr Matar said the RTA's new buses had entry platforms that lower to allow those who need them to board. The authority is also investigating ways to ensure the metro and water ferries are accessible to all. "But this is not enough," she said. "Without a law, there will be no official checks or follow-ups to ensure companies are abiding by the standards and regulations issued. Also, the laws will reflect a modernised Dubai, as well as provide an official document for the public.

"It's not that there is an error within the infrastructure at the moment, it is just that people are unaware of what can be done to improve the situation. These areas are not highlighted. "If you talk about human needs, you think of food, and water, the essentials in life. The ability to move around is also an essential." nsamaha@thenational.ae