'UAE empowers the physically challenged'
Dubai - "This flag means a lot to me. It reminds me of my persistence, of the challenges I have undertaken for this country."
Struggling with disability is never easy. However, from limited accessibility to public places and facilities to having to deal with people's empathetic looks, the UAE has come a long way in recognising and meeting their rights, according to people with special needs. Naseeb Obaid, a senior draftsman at the Dubai Municipality since 1998 and a Paralympics champ, was diagnosed with polio that caused him a difficulty in walking.
He said he never imagined the UAE would reach that far in changing attitudes towards the special needs in a relatively short period of time. On the sidelines of the 45th National Day celebrations at the municipality, he pointed at the flag in his hand and said: "This flag means a lot to me. It reminds me of my persistence, of the challenges I have undertaken for this country."
"During the 1990s leading up to early 2000s, no one knew us or noticed us. They didn't know the challenges we have to face in our daily lives, what our needs are, or what services we should be offered," said Obaid.
Walking with crutches, he said he faced difficulties moving around places that were not equipped for special needs people. "We were asked to wait in the queue just like anybody else. Having to climb the stairs due to the absence of ramps caused a health issue to most of the physically-challenged community."
For Obaid, he had to prove his abilities through sport. He was nominated for the finals in the Atlanta 1996 Summer Paralympics, before winning seventh place in the 400m race. Later, as Obaid met His Highness Dr Shaikh Sultan bin Muhammed Al Qasimi, Member of UAE Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, he promised to come back home with a medal in the next Olympics.
Obaid became the first UAE national to win a silver medal in the 400m at the Sydney 2000 Summer Paralympics. "Through sports, we were able to make people notice us," he says.
With the issuance of the Federal Law No (29) of 2006 to protect the rights of people with special needs, and as Dubai aims to be one of the world's most disabled-friendly cities by 2020, Obaid couldn't be prouder. "Now we have our impact and respect in the community, all thanks to our government that believed in us."
The Dubai Municipality currently has over 70 employees with different physical and mental challenges, all provided with equipped offices and facilities. Customer service representatives are trained to deal with special needs. "They even learned sign language and were trained to educate their colleagues," said Obaid.
Today, the city's infrastructure and free services provide the dis-abled with the life they aspire. His Highness Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, also recently honoured the UAE Paralympics team that won seven gold, silver and bronze medals at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
For Obaid, the future is even brighter. "We hope that Dubai is number one, and that everyone is a friend to the disabled are looking forward to see 100 per cent inclusion in our schools and workplaces."