x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

School buses for special needs children in short supply

The UAE has only 50 vehicles that can accommodate children with special needs, and each of those has just four such seats.

ABU DHABI // The country has a significant shortage of vehicles that accommodate children with special needs, said Amel Thripnjak, senior paediatric therapist at the Ministry of Social Affairs.

Out of the 1,512 buses serving public schools across the country, just 50 are specifically designed to accommodate those with special needs - and each of those has just four such seats.

As for the country's five main rehabilitation centres, just one has a modified bus that can accommodate six passengers with wheelchairs. The main problem, said Ms Thripnjak, is paying for the buses.

The Dubai Centre for Special Needs - the only public institution among the five main rehabilitation centres Ms Thripnjak oversees - has 25 patients who use wheelchairs.

The remaining four private institutions in Ras al Khaimah, Ajman, Fujairah and Dibba, use other methods for transporting their patients.

While many parents chose to provide their children with their own transportation, Ms Thripnjak said, more of these specially designed buses are needed.

A new bus has been donated to the Dubai centre by Emirates Transport, with future plans to provide one to the Fujairah Centre for Special Needs. "Of course it's not enough," Ms Thripnjak said. "But we'll definitely take something over nothing. It's a start."

She said students who do not take this bus are provided with other buses that contain special seats tailored to children's physical requirements. These buses, however, cannot accommodate wheelchairs.

"These children need separate wheelchairs - one at home, one at the school and one at the centre," Ms Thripnjak said.

Last week, Emirates Transport donated another specially designed bus to the privately run Ras al Khaimah Autism Centre.

"We need more charities, organisations and companies to donate money," Ms Thripnjak said. "What we have now only accommodates a fraction of the children who require these buses. We can use all the help we can get."

The back door of the special needs buses is fitted with a special crane that ascends and descends quickly and smoothly.