With International Day of Persons with Disabilities being marked worldwide on 3rd December, we find out if enough is being done to create inclusion here in the capital
When you hear the word disability, you’ll probably have a pre-conceived notion in your head as to what that term means, but do you really understand the concept?
Disability is an umbrella term and is defined as a physical or mental condition that limits an individual’s movement, senses or activities. What’s more, not all disabilities are physical, meaning they can be easily misunderstood or completely overlooked.
According to data from the World Health Organization, nearly one billion people around the world are disabled – that’s one in every seven people, and shockingly, half of them cannot afford to receive care.
“People tend to think disability is something the person has, but we think that disability is something that happens to a person due to a lack of an accessible environment,” Renate Baur-Richter, programme manager at inclusion group, the SEDRA Foundation, tells us.
“What we like to emphasise is that it’s not the person that has the limitations, it’s the society that doesn’t provide enough access.”
Aiming to provide an insight and understanding of the issues faced by people with disabilities around the world, The United Nations’ International Day of Persons with Disabilities was launched in 1992.
Since then, every year on 3rd December, people around the world gather to raise awareness, encourage societal integration and help to break down the barriers that still exist in every aspect of our society.
“I think it’s a day to celebrate the milestones that we have achieved so far and also to celebrate the beauty and benefit of a diverse society,” explains Renate.
“We’ve come a long way; what has happened here in a short amount of time is immense.
“Abu Dhabi will host the Special Olympics in 2019 and this is the first time it has ever been to this region. And it’s not just about the two weeks of the event, it’s also about the legacy and the run-up to the games, and we can already see a change.
“Inclusion has been made a high priority on the agenda. This should be a holistic movement; it’s about how citizens of the UAE
as a whole support it.”
Helping to support the rights, promote the wellbeing and uphold the dignity of those affected, the UN’s annual campaign is an opportunity to end stigma and improve our knowledge of an often-marginalised subject.
Closer to home, helping to ensure access to education and employment opportunities for people living with disabilities, providing support and increasing community awareness year-round, the SEDRA Foundation has been making a positive impact in the capital since 2014.
While progress has been made, more can be done to equalise opportunities and encourage all members of society to play a part in creating a welcoming community for everyone.
That being said, stigma does exist around disability and there is still work to be done to end harmful stereotypes and eradicate out-dated perspectives that are still a part of society.
“There is not one single (silver) bullet to stop stigma, but inclusion has really [proven to be] a sustainable way to create a more diverse society,” continues Renate.
“What we would like to see is creating universal access from the beginning so you don’t have to think about inclusion because inclusion is already engrained in society, you are inclusive by default.”
If you’re inspired to create change in the community, you can make a difference, but it won’t happen overnight.
“What we always advise is to start with a small step; don’t try to solve all the issues in a short time,” says Renate.
“Volunteering is one option for an individual. For companies, internships are a great way to assess how fit your organisation is to take on employees with disabilities.
“And when it comes to event organisers, think about how you can create a more inclusive environment and also promote the fact that it’s fully inclusive and that people with disabilities are welcome. Start with a small step and take it from there.”
For more information, visit: sedra.org
WORDS Colin Armstrong