Inclusivity Rising: Dubai's journey towards accessibility excellence

A look at the city's bold transformation, pioneering global standards in disability inclusivity and accessibility

By Geraldine Naidoo

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Published: Tue 28 May 2024, 3:48 PM

Last updated: Fri 31 May 2024, 11:20 AM

Amidst the glittering skyline and pulsating, vibrant culture, in a city where innovation knows no bounds, a quiet revolution is underway—one that champions disability inclusivity, accessibility, and empowerment for all: Dubai is taking bold strides to ensure that every individual, regardless of ability, can thrive in its dynamic landscape.

At the heart of this endeavour lies a commitment to revolutionise travel inclusivity — a concept propelled by visionary leadership and unwavering dedication.

Empowering People of Determination

Under the visionary directives of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Dubai has embraced a forward-thinking approach to disability inclusion. Through initiatives like the National Policy for Empowering People of Determination, individuals with disabilities are not only recognised for their achievements but also empowered to contribute meaningfully to society.

Individuals with disabilities encompass those with enduring physical, mental, intellectual, or sensory limitations that, when coupled with societal obstacles, may impede their equitable engagement in society. By reframing the narrative and terminology surrounding disability, Dubai is fostering a culture of respect, dignity, and inclusion.

A Warm Welcome: Dubai’s Inclusive Invitation

Driven by the vision of Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Dubai aims to be a city that embraces everyone—regardless of their abilities. Initiatives such as ‘My Community… A City for Everyone’ underscore Dubai's commitment to creating an inclusive environment where all individuals can thrive.

The city’s commitment to accessibility is further entrenched in law, with robust building access codes ensuring wheelchair-accessible entrances and dedicated facilities. From certified facilities that include accessible routes upon arrival at Dubai airport, and which then extend into the city, Dubai's holistic approach sets a commendable standard, reaffirming its position as a global leader in hospitality excellence.

Stepping Up: Certification and Training Initiatives

Dubai is currently implementing comprehensive accessibility certification and training programs across key sectors. Notably, the Dubai Corporation for Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DCTCM) aims to certify all hotels, attractions, and major modes of transportation—including the Metro, and taxi services.

Through comprehensive training facilitated by the Dubai Way platform, (developed by the Dubai College of Tourism), this initiative aims to enrich staff knowledge, refine communication strategies, and foster a more accommodating experience for People of Determination.

Shining a Spotlight on Hidden Challenges: Prioritising Unseen Disabilities

While some disabilities may be readily apparent, the full extent of these city-wide efforts becomes apparent in the support extended to those with less visible, and less understood disabilities.

Unlocking Understanding: Delving into the Significance of Autism Awareness

In the UAE, approximately 1 in 89 children, and in the US, about 1 in 36, are estimated to have autism, a condition often described as an "invisible disability." Despite its lack of immediate visibility, autism poses significant challenges, marked by social communication difficulties and sensory sensitivities. Acknowledging autism's presence is crucial; it highlights the necessity for support and understanding. Embracing awareness and acceptance is pivotal in fostering an inclusive society that accommodates autistic individuals and their families, fostering a more supportive environment for all.

Unlocking Access: Dubai’s Autism Specific Initiatives

In a pioneering move, Dubai is on track to become the world's first Certified Autism Destination™ (beyond the U.S.), prioritising inclusivity for all.

Led by Dubai Department of Economy and Tourism (DET), partnering with IBCCES (International Board of Credentialing and Continued Education Standards), customized training for hospitality, travel and entertainment industry with regards Autism specific preparations is currently being implemented.

Leading the Way: New Standards for Autism Inclusivity

Meeting expert standards, IBCCES certifications are global benchmarks in autism and cognitive disorder training. Certification is rigorous, requiring a minimum 80 per cent guest-facing staff to be trained. Venues undergo full on-site audits and reviews, and changes are recommended accordingly, for e.g. quiet spaces are created to ease sensory overload. Sensory guides are then created to benefit traveller expectation. IBCCES further endorses the "Certified" status within their network, currently spanning 111 countries with over 20 million members.

With more than 350 hotels embarking on the certification process and over 40 locations already earning Certified Autism Center certifications, Dubai's dedication to inclusivity is palpable. From major attractions like Kidzania, Motiongate, and Atlantis Aquaventure Waterpark to hospitality giants like Emaar Hospitality Group, Dubai's pursuit of accessibility extends across various sectors.

Deciphering the Impact: Unveiling the Significance of These Interventions

A recent testimonial from a mother who visited a Certified Autism Center-accredited attraction underscores the significance of these efforts:

“I was never able to do any of these things before! The kids loved the experience and Jody(who has autism) was amazing! No meltdowns. The staff was so sincere and really wanted to make sure we were all looked after.”

Raising the Bar: Dubai's Pursuit of Excellence in Accessibility

In a testament to Dubai's collaborative spirit, Myron Pincomb, IBCCES Board Chairman and CEO, hails the city's dedication and applauds the multiple pioneering efforts across industries,

“Dubai’s commitment to community involvement at every stage sets a global benchmark. We are privileged to be part of this transformative journey, working alongside the Department of Economy and Tourism to create options for everyone."

"We want to ensure that all visitors have the best possible experience when visiting Dubai," affirms Issam Kazim, CEO of Dubai Corporation for Tourism and Commerce. "Our partnership with IBCCES underscores our commitment to providing exceptional service to all, including those who are autistic or sensory-sensitive. Dubai stands ready to welcome them with open arms."

Spotlight on Accessibility Innovators: Exploring Strategies and Impact

“Accessibility Champions" is a video podcast series highlighting the realm of accessibility, and the remarkable efforts of industry leaders in serving the expanding community of individuals with disabilities. The podcast raises awareness through discussions with influential figures and community collaborators who actively promote disability inclusivity and accessibility within their organisations.

Dubai's Bold Evolution: Continuing the Audacious Journey

As Dubai continues to evolve and innovate, its commitment to rising disability inclusivity and accessibility excellence remains unwavering. Visionary leadership, inclusive policies, and proactive initiatives redefine societal norms, fostering a city where everyone flourishes, regardless of ability, and no-one is left behind.


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