Image Credit: Ahmed Kutty/Gulf News

The Special Olympics being held in Abu Dhabi epitomise the UAE’s continuing efforts to integrate the special needs segment with the mainstream to shape an inclusive society of the highest order.

One of the pillars of the UAE’s National Policy for Empowering People of Determination is the strengthening of their participation in public life, culture and sports and the Special Olympics are providing the perfect platform for this mission to be accomplished.

As studies have shown, sports is one of the most powerful ways to achieve this integration. It boosts the self-esteem of people with special needs through an enhanced sense of physical empowerment, leading to a sense of achievement and belonging to society.

The Special Olympics is a part of the continuum of a legacy the UAE has established for people of determination as it strives to meet their needs, wants, potential and possibilities through an all-encompassing vision that includes health and rehabilitation, education, vocational rehabilitation and employment and outreach.

Attesting to this purposefulness are the findings of a study on regional disabilities perception commissioned by the Local Organising Committee for the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019, in partnership with Special Olympics Middle East and North Africa office, which reveal that the UAE, along with other Gulf countries, is paving the way for a more receptive work environment for people of determination.

Seventy-six per cent of 678 respondents (total number of respondents) in the UAE were aware of the government initiatives towards disability, while 73 per cent out of 516 respondents said that the UAE government was “highly involved in disability. “The report suggested encouraging sports inclusion at an early age, creating a database of opportunities available in schools and communities and coach training and development and also recommended “changing mind sets about the power of sport, expanding Special Olympics Unified Sports and Unified Champion Schools Programme.”

The inclusion of people with special needs at every level of society, and placing them within easy access of every opportunity, is what marks a truly effective society.

There are about one billion people, or 15 per cent of the world’s population, that experience some form of disability and it is imperative that governments implement policies that plug their potential into the national mainframe.

The empowering experience of the Special Olympics in the capital is a reiteration of the UAE’s commitment to actualising this outcome.