Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 22 August 2019

Raising awareness of disability across the UAE

A luxury resort, fast food restaurants, coffee shops and department stores are building ramps for wheelchair access in direct response to a campaign by disability awareness group WingsOfAngelz.
Shobhika Kalra, WingsOfAngelz’s founder who lives with the Friedreich’s ataxia condition, a rare disorder impairing muscle coordination, says it is ‘good to see people getting involved with this cause because it does not directly affect them since they are not on wheelchairs themselves’. Satish Kumar / The National
Shobhika Kalra, WingsOfAngelz’s founder who lives with the Friedreich’s ataxia condition, a rare disorder impairing muscle coordination, says it is ‘good to see people getting involved with this cause because it does not directly affect them since they are not on wheelchairs themselves’. Satish Kumar / The National

DUBAI // A luxury resort, fast food restaurants, coffee shops and department stores are all building ramps for wheelchair access in response to a campaign by disability awareness group WingsOfAngelz.

The group is marshalling enthusiastic volunteers in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah and Ajman to study whether roads near metro stations, car showrooms and buildings have gentle slopes to help the disabled, mothers with prams and the elderly.

Explaining just how overwhelming mobility issues can be, Shaikh Mohammed Bavazeer, a volunteer and financial consultant from Ajman, said many stores built slopes to the entrance, but there was no provision from the pavement to the road.

“A three-inch footpath is like a big hill, I can’t cross it on my own in my wheelchair,” said Mr Bavazeer, whose leg muscles are weak due to polio.

“Some ramps are so high that a wheelchair slides back unless someone is behind to push it. It’s not easy for a normal person to understand the needs of the disabled. I’m wheelchair-bound but I always try to be independent.”

The group has begun inspiring change. About 20 volunteers are working with roads and transport officials, restaurant owners and department store managers to add dropped curbs near public transport sites and shops.

The RTA confirmed that ramps are being built following requests from the group.

About 50 spots have been identified and will be completed over the next few months.

The Bab Al Shams Desert Resort and Spa recently added a slope for spa access following a request from WingsOfAngelz. While there are slopes in the hotel, the spa ramp may have been missed in the initial construction, the hotel said.

Portions of the wall have been removed at the spa entrance to widen it to fit a wheelchair.

“It is our obligation to respond to such requests because they are part of the community,” said Mohammed El Aghoury, cluster general manager for Bab Al Shams and Meydan hotels.

“They should not need to ask for help and should move everywhere, on all streets like anyone else.”

The group’s next Ramp Day will bring together volunteers on August 14 in Abu Dhabi and August 21 in Dubai. Updates are posted on their Facebook page.

“It is so good to see people getting involved with this cause because it does not directly affect them since they are not in wheelchairs themselves,” said Shobhika Kalra, the group’s founder who lives with the Friedreich’s ataxia condition, a rare disorder impairing muscle coordination.

She uses a wheelchair on pavements and roads to get from her Rashidiya home to the metro station and onwards to a Deira office where she works as an administrative assistant.

“Our volunteers find places, share contacts so we can create change and more people can be independent.”

Working collectively for a social cause prompted Kevin Sujai, an electrical engineer in Abu Dhabi, to sign on. “I have seen people in wheelchairs struggle to get around and seen how people with them struggle to push the chairs,” he said.

“Whatever little we can do is important from checking places we visit on a daily basis, talking to the management, asking for ramps. We need more volunteers, people to follow-up and not leave it after just one request.”

rtalwar@thenational.ae

Updated: July 19, 2015 04:00 AM

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