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A capital that cares


Ever wondered how you’d use a cashpoint or get in a bus if you were in a wheelchair? An upcoming exhibition is set to transform the way you think about disability

According to the most recent figures available from the UAE National Bureau of Statistics, there were 10,409 people living with disabilities in Abu Dhabi in 2005. Surprising, isn’t it? But you rarely see them because it’s so tough for them to get out and about.

The 2015 edition of ABILITESme, a three-day event from 24th to 26th March at Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (ADNEC), aims to change that.

The annual event is now in its second year and the only one of its kind in the region. It shows how Abu Dhabi is striving to become a city that caters for residents and visitors with disabilities.

As well as conferences and seminars, the event will host exhibitors showcasing new technology designed for people with disabilities. It will also offer children’s activities and sports, so whether you’re in a wheelchair or not, you can try various sports such as table tennis, wheelchair basketball and boccia, a game similar to bowls, hosted by the UAE Disabled Sports Federation (UAE DSF).


Scott Sankey, 36, from Canada, uses an electric wheelchair due to a spinal injury obtained when he was a teenager. Since he moved to Abu Dhabi in 2013, he’s noticed some impressive changes.

“Emiratis are very accommodating and aware of those with disabilities and will try to help if they can,” he explains. “Many locals have gone out of their way to help me like allowing me first on to public transport.

“I live on Al Maryah Island, which is really accessible for me. The Galleria is especially user-friendly because of its smooth floors, large lifts and wide, clear walkways.

“I have a van which has been adapted for my chair. I also use special needs taxis which can be ordered from the usual 600 535 353 number – I just let them know I need a disabled one. This often takes longer than ordering a standard taxi though.”

In February, the Department of Transport (DoT) rolled out a fleet of 270 Mercedes Vito taxi vans suitable for wheelchair users.

The DoT also offers people with special needs and the elderly the Reaya Ojra pass, a free document that entitles a lifetime of free travel on public buses in Abu Dhabi. You can apply for the pass at Abu Dhabi Bus Station’s main office on Muroor Road near Al Wahda Football Club – you’ll need to present your Emirates ID and a proof of disability document from your doctor.

The General Directorate of Abu Dhabi Police meanwhile, has implemented parking permits and designated parking slots. Holders of these special needs parking permits are exempt from paying Mawaqif parking fees. Applications must be made at the Directorate of Traffic & Patrols on the corner of Al Dhafra Street and Sultan Bin Zayed the First Street. 7.30am-2.30pm. Contact: 800 555 www.adpolice.gov.ae

No limits

Abu Dhabi offers plenty of activities and clubs for disabled residents.

Zayed Sports City (ZSC) recently held its first Disability Bowling Tournament, organised by Abu Dhabi Sports Council. The lanes at ZSC’s bowling alley have ramp access, as well as assistance ramps when playing. Those with limited motion who can’t lift a bowling ball can line up a ramp frame and push a ball down the ramp tracks onto the alley, rather than attempting the usual bowling throw. The alley is often used by the Deaf Bowling Federation and the Zayed Higher Organization for Humanitarian Care & Special Needs.


ZSC also has three tennis courts with wheelchair access. Barry Bremner, ZSC’s general manager, says, “ZSC welcomes every member of the community, regardless of ability. Our facilities, services and events take this into consideration and we are patient and accommodating to ensure people with disabilities have a safe, enjoyable visit.”

Family Beach at Gate 3 on the Corniche has free chairs for mobility-impaired children. These floating, lightweight plastic chairs have air-filled tyres and life jackets, allowing children to safely float on the water. Each user must be under adult supervision.

TrainYAS by Activelife on Tuesday at Yas Marina Circuit is a wheelchair-friendly event, as is the ladies only night, GoYAS, the following night. These are both free, weekly events. Tuesday night offers a 5.5km track to travel around and Wednesday offers a 3.13km track.

Still, the capital has a long way to go to improve facilities for its disabled and elderly population.

Scott says, “If there was one thing that could be improved, it’s getting back onto the curb after exiting a bus. The public buses here are good with extra grip, anti-slip entrances and low floors, but getting on and off the curb is very difficult without assistance. They need to be lower.

“There are areas like Tourist Club (Al Zahia) which are difficult for wheelchair users because of the surface quality and height of the paths. They’re also too narrow. Certain malls can be difficult to travel around especially when queues of people who aren’t disabled stand in front of disabled-only lifts.

“Getting hold of medication is also a real hassle. A lot of the medication I need is under controlled lists and when I am running low it can be an issue to get hold of it without stress. It would be great to see more consideration here.



How can you help people with disabilities integrate into the community?


  • Tidy aisles and hallways so wheelchairs can pass by
  • Sit down to address wheelchair-users at eye level
  • Install ramps at entrances and design wide doorways if you own a business
  • Consider learning sign language – it costs AED 2,500 for a 20-hour course at Eton Institute in twofour54, Park Rotana Complex


  • Park in spaces reserved for wheelchair users
  • Use or lock toilets reserved for wheelchair users
  • Talk to a person in a wheelchair through a third person

Need to rent a wheelchair for a few days? A lightweight chair is AED 15 a day for a minimum of four days. Call 050 818 7522 or search for Wheelchair Rentals in Abu Dhabi on Facebook.

Jack Dignum 


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