The consensus among the UAE’s disabled community is one of hope, not self-pity. “We want opportunities, not sympathy,” says 31-year-old visually-impaired, Dhawal Ganatra.
Ten years ago, while studying for his bachelors at the age of 21, Dhawal’s vision began to deteriorate rapidly, without warning. “We noticed he started bumping into things,” his father, Jyotindra Ganatra says from their home in Dubai.
After seeking the advice of their family doctor and undergoing several field tests, the results showed his peripheral and central vision had been severely compromised.
- Soon after, Dhawal was diagnosed with Retinitis pigmentosa (RP).
- RP affects the retina’s ability to respond to light. This inherited disease causes a slow loss of vision, beginning with decreased night vision and loss of peripheral (side) vision. Eventually, blindness ensues.
- Unfortunately to date, there is no cure for RP.
- “This is a disease that just creeps up on you,” Jyotindra says.
- “We really weren’t expecting the news as we have no family history of RP.”
- Today, Dhawal has about “five per cent vision”, but that loss of sense hasn’t dampened his sense of pride.
- “What people need to know is that just because someone has a disability, it doesn’t mean they are not an able person.”
- With a Bachelor’s and MBA in Business and Marketing, the question of “is he qualified enough?” becomes irrelevant when talking about Dhawal.
- Several years ago, when his vision was about 25 per cent, Dhawal secured a job in a bank here selling credit cards to customers.
- Calling about 50 customers per day, Dhawal would have to use the natural light from the office window to get a better look at his task list.
- But because he took “slightly more time” than his colleagues to carry out his duties, he eventually lost the position.
- “In this part of the world they talk about 100 per cent inclusion, but businesses just aren’t doing enough for people with disabilities,” he says.
- “They are not educated enough about disability employment.”
- Faced with the hurdle of finding mainstream work again as a person with a disability he struggled for several years and then his luck changed.
- In 2015, Dhawal was hand-picked by US-based non-governmental organisation (NGO) ‘Project Starfish’ to undergo online training to get him back into mainstream employment.
- Speaking to Khaleej Times, Subhashish Acharya – who Founded ‘Project Starfish’ – said he started the company because there was no platform for getting people with disabilities a job.
- “What we do is launch and re-launch the careers of professionals with disabilities who are unemployed, looking for empowerment and employment. Inclusion is often talked about but never actioned,” he said.
- Today, Dhawal works freely from his home in Dubai and makes a living offering freelance research services to businesses embarking on projects in the UAE.
- “I am the only representative currently working from the UAE, but Project Starfish enables people with disabilities across eight or nine countries.”
- For Dhawal, this reintegration back into the working world has given him back the “confidence and independence” he lost when he was let go from his previous job.
- “That made me feel isolated, Project Starfish has given me hope again.”
- And he says if his story can help other people with disabilities who feel depressed or unwanted by their society, then that’s another role he feels he has fulfilled.
- “The government is putting out a lot of programmes here to empower people with disabilities, so I feel optimistic. Now it’s up to businesses to get proactive,” he says.
- Currently, there is insufficient statistics about people with disabilities in the UAE.
- But late in 2015, it was announced Dubai would be compiling an official database in 2017 to fill this gap, which is a huge step on its path to becoming 100 per cent disability-friendly by the year 2020.
- But despite this progress and the UAE laws that require all private and public institutions to hire staff with special needs, Dhawal says many are still unemployed and living on government help – a trend which is being reflected around the world.
The chance you deserve
Subhashish Acharya says the high rate of disability unemployment in the UAE – and the world – can be solved by re-skilling professionals and providing them a platform to network with small businesses.
In the last three years, over 150 professionals who are blind/visually impaired/or with severe disabilities have benefited through the Project Starfish platform. The programme is free of charge for any deserved and ambitious professional with a disability who needs a second chance at profes-sional employment.
CDA on disability empowerment
Launched in 2011, the ElKayt Pro-gramme aims to enable people with disabilities in the work force and creates an accessible work environment by providing job opportunities in private and government entities without discrimination, abuse or neglect.
Facilities for people with disabilities
- Special facilities at airport and hotels
- Free parking cards
- Special sign-language call centres from Dewa
- Dubai Club for Special SportsSanad card for disabled for dis-counts and promotions
Schools for people with Disabilities:
Dubai Autism Centre; Dubai Centre for Special Needs; Al Noor Training Centre; and Rashid Paediatric Therapy Centre.
© Khaleej Times