Abu Dhabi, UAE: Due to lack of accessibility to everyday services and locations, many special needs residents have faced difficulties in fulfilling their daily needs in the emirate of Abu Dhabi, delegates heard at a conference in Abu Dhabi on Monday.
But this situation is set to change soon with the implementation of a mandatory building code for all projects in the emirate, as well as concerted efforts by transportation authorities, speakers said at the Abilities ME conference and exhibition.
"The building code has a special chapter, and detailed guidelines on making spaces and structures accessible for all. Within the next decade, therefore, I expect that at least 70 per cent of the city will become easily reachable for those with special needs," Fatima Amer, building code and construction adviser at the Department of Municipal Affairs (DMA), told Gulf News.
"While the building code will apply uniformly to all new public and private development projects from October 2014 onwards, the challenge lies in making existing structures compliant. But Abu Dhabi sees frequent renovations, and so these will also begin to meet the code requirements as they are upgraded or as their occupants change," Fatima added.
The DMA official was speaking on the sidelines of the conference, which is showcasing technologies and services available for those with special needs. For quite a while, many structures in the capital have included accessibility features at entrances and exits, such as ramps. But once inside, moving around has proved unmanageable for people with special needs.
"There is often no room for a wheelchair to turn corners, or there are raised obstructions that could trip visually-impaired persons who use a walking stick to get around," Fatima explained.
The code therefore includes minimum standards to increase overall accessibility. For example, at least 60 per cent of all public entrances should be accessible for those using wheelchairs. Elevators must be wide enough to fit these chairs, while audio systems must include assistive listening options for those with hearing impairments. In addition, a number of parking spaces within each lot must also be reserved for those with disabilities, and all structures must have a safe fire- and smoke-free space where people with impaired mobility can take refuge until emergency response personnel are able to extract them safely.
"The code has been adopted voluntarily since it was introduced in 2011, and many major projects already meet these standards, indicating that the mindset towards accessibility is changing positively," Fatima said.
Meanwhile, a fleet of special taxis for people with mobile impairments is also seeing great demand, announced the Centre for Regulation of Hired Cars (TransAD), which manages taxi services in the emirate. The taxis are fitted with hydraulic lifts, ramps, and extra room and height for wheelchairs.
"Our eight taxis, which are dispersed throughout the emirate, have undertaken about 400 trips a month since they were introduced in mid-2013. Due to this service, annual complaints about inaccessible vehicles have fallen from 2,000 to less than 1,000 during this period," said Mohammad Al Qamzi, general manager at TransAD.
The four-day event is being held under the patronage of Shaikh Nahyan Bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister for Culture, Youth and Community Development, and it will see therapists, experts and residents discuss trends and advances in accessibility. In addition, a series of sports competitions for special needs residents and workshops for experts is also being organised.
© Gulf NewsMar 2014