x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

UN convention on disabled unlikely to bring big changes.

UAE has come a long way in how it treats those with disabilities but still has a long way to go, disabled say.

DUBAI // Nada al Bustani has been in a wheelchair for most of her life, and she does not expect anyone who is not disabled to know the challenges she has faced. "How can people without disabilities understand what it is like for us in this country?" she asked. "Only [disabled people] feel it on a daily basis and know what their needs are."

As a lifelong resident of Dubai, she has seen a revolution in the way people with disabilities are treated. "The UAE has come a long way, but it still has a long way to go," Mrs al Bustani said. The 37-year-old Emirati said she was pleased the Government recently signed a UN agreement to formally recognise the rights of people with disabilities especially since people like herself will have input on reports about the country's progress.

The impact of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was discussed yesterday at the regional conference of Rehabilitation International, a worldwide network of advocates and professionals in the field. The convention came into force two years ago and has been ratified by more than 70 countries, including Bangladesh, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen. The UAE was awaiting Cabinet approval and the signature of Sheikh Khalifa, President of the UAE, before ratifying the document, said Hussain al Shaikh, the executive director of social care at the Ministry of Social Affairs.

Mr al Shaikh said laws in the UAE were similar to the rights provided in the convention and ratification would probably not lead to sweeping legal changes. The convention provides for the right to non-discrimination and equal opportunity and accessibility. Each ratifying country is required to report back to the UN about changes that are implemented. Mariam Mohammed Khalfan al Roumi, the Minister of Social Affairs, said the UAE could do a better job of recognising the contribution of disabled people, and of providing equal access to higher education and job opportunities.

"Looking at the labour legislation and regulations for employment, we can see that it is below the desired level," she said. "It doesn't represent an attractive environment for persons with disabilities in the labour market." The UN convention was designed to recognise 650 million disabled people as "a special category of people needing protection, support and opportunity", said Dr Christopher Reynolds, the managing director of the British Institute for Learning Development in Dubai.

Yet legislation would not be enough without a shift in attitudes towards the disabled, he said. "As a Muslim society with high regard for the laws of religion, the UAE society also has a high regard for the laws of government," said Dr Reynolds. "At the same time, the Muslim society is a family oriented society and societal norms are decided in the context of relationships and human interaction. "Drafting legislation to enhance the condition of life and opportunity for people with disabilities, of itself, will not be enough to bring about social change and reduce discrimination and prejudice.

"Social regulation is futile without social responsibility." amcmeans@thenational.ae<