Citizens and residents in the UAE are fortunate to have a government that is fully committed to creating and maintaining an inclusive environment. Indeed, equality of opportunity represents one of the cornerstones of our nation, and our leaders have gone to great lengths to build a fair society in which everyone is able to realise their full potential.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the UAE’s policy concerning people of determination, which is built on six key pillars:
- Health and rehabilitation
- Vocational rehabilitation and employment
- Social protection and family empowerment
- Public life, culture and sports.
Coupled with a comprehensive package of guidance and support, this legislation has placed the rights of people of determination at the forefront of decision-making in the UAE – and with significant success. When it comes to measures intended to make tangible improvements to people’s day-to-day lives, actions speak louder than words, which is why the initiatives, events and state-of-the-art facilities developed across the emirates offer a global benchmark for best practice.
So, what can other countries learn from the emirates’ approach to individuals within this group? Well, in my opinion, there are four primary areas that showcase the UAE’s ongoing commitment to people of determination.
The UAE Ministry of Community Development’s (MOCD) new curriculum for training is a prime example of best practice in this area. Specifically designed for individuals who currently attend MOCD Mashagel Centres, this programme trains people of determination – specifically those with intellectual disabilities – in a range of professional, social and behavioural skills that empower them to thrive in their chosen careers. Combining the key pillars of ‘education’ and ‘vocational rehabilitation and employment’, this initiative is already serving to broaden the range of career options available to people of determination.
More broadly, Mashagel Centres, which currently operate across all seven emirates, provide people of determination with opportunities to learn work-based skills through hands-on applications. With subjects ranging from jewellery and chocolate making to hydroponics, these facilities provide students with real-world experience in a diverse selection of disciplines that cater to every interest.
Equality of opportunity does not end with education in the UAE. There are a range of employment-related initiatives designed to harness the talents of people of determination, especially within the country’s thriving hospitality sector.
Conrad Abu Dhabi Etihad Towers, for example, runs an Inclusive Partnerships and Employment Programme, which supports, trains and employs young people of determination who wish to work in the industry. US-headquartered hospitality giant Hilton, meanwhile, has also adopted a proactive approach. Speaking at Arabian Travel Market (ATM) 2022, Jochem-Jan Sleiffer, the multinational’s Area President in the Middle East, Africa and Turkey, explained how he and his team are working with Dubai Executive Council to enable more people of determination to enter the sector, providing opportunities for progression throughout their careers.
Building upon investments related to education and employment, there are myriad healthcare-related initiatives designed to support, empower and protect people of determination living in the UAE.
One of the most recent examples emerged last month when National Ambulance teamed up with Special Olympics UAE to install a series of automated external defibrillators (AEDs) at sports clubs and facilities as part of their ‘Train Safely’ initiative.
Straddling the pillars of ‘health and rehabilitation’ and ‘public life, culture and sports’, this potentially life-saving scheme dramatically increases the chances of survival for those experiencing cardiac arrest. It is just one of many excellent examples of how national entities collaborate to create safe environments in which people of determination can exercise and compete.
Sports and fitness for all
This year’s Autism Awareness Week, which took place in April, featured The Emirates Physical Fitness Championship for People of Determination. Designed to raise awareness of autism, as well as neurodiversity within the spectrum, the event saw 760 people of determination participate from the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Morocco, Tunisia and Libya.
The championship, which was held in Abu Dhabi under the patronage of Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, UAE Minister of Tolerance and Coexistence, also strove to open new doors of cooperation and support between entities and individuals across the Middle East.
In 2019, the Special Olympics World Games were hosted by Abu Dhabi, raising awareness of the importance of people of determination within sport. This high-profile event saw a huge increase in the number of athletes attending. What’s more, as part of the games’ legacy, the UAE launched the Unified Champion Schools (UCS) scheme to further promote accessibility and inclusion within the education system through greater integration of students with disabilities.
The UAE is also investing significant time and resources into the participation and development of sportspeople of determination on the international stage. For instance, the 12-strong cohort of Emirati athletes that participated in last month’s Invitational Games Malta 2022 was the only team to attend from the Arab world, competing against more than 1,000 fellow sportspeople from around the globe. This represented a long-awaited opportunity for our national team to once again compete in person, following the UAE’s efforts to provide Covid-secure training opportunities via virtual sports and fitness camps throughout the pandemic.
A fully inclusive approach
I’ve only outlined a handful of the many measures the UAE is taking to protect and empower people of determination in their day-to-day lives. However, I believe the most important lesson that other countries can learn from our nation’s approach lies in its unwavering commitment to inclusivity at every level.
Here in the Emirates, policy surrounding the empowerment of people of determination never follows a top-down model. Instead, our leaders make every possible effort to include the voices, talents and expertise of people of determination throughout the decision-making process.
So, why should UAE policy be held up as a global benchmark? Because our nation’s holistic approach simply would not be possible without the involvement of people of determination themselves