Al Mushrif School conducted a campaign to make its pupils more empathetic towards people with disabilities as part of Disabilities Awareness Week. Image Credit: Ahmed Kutty/Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: Mir Rayyan Sultan’s beloved grandfather is facing gradual loss of vision, and the 11-year-old often wonders what it might be like for him. So, when his school offered him a chance to experience a day as a special needs individual, he volunteered to go about his day blindfolded.

“I thought it would be difficult to move from one place to another but I soon learnt how to use my senses of touch and hearing to get around. But I was always afraid that I would get hurt, or be unable to move away if an object was hurtling towards me,” Sultan told Gulf News.

“Now that I’ve been through the experience however, I have a better idea of how to help my granddad. For example, I can tell him what’s around him and ahead of him so he feels less worried,” the pupil from Pakistan added.

Sultan was one of 54 Grade 4 pupils at Al Mushrif Primary School in the capital who participated in Disabilities Awareness Week, an annual initiative that aims to help children understand the challenges and strengths of people with special needs. The school currently boasts about 600 pupils, and about three per cent of them have special needs.

Indera Rampersaud, organiser and inclusion teacher, said the goal was to show children that people can overcome their disabilities.

“We also hope to create a sense of compassion among the participants, and an ability to accept those different from themselves. It was easiest to simulate hearing impairments, loss of vision and paraplegia, so we opted for these three challenges,” she explained. Rampersaud set up the activities in collaboration with Adam Keaveny, head of inclusion at the school.

To start off the week, a host of special needs individuals also met pupils and spoke to them about their daily lives. Grade 4 pupils then had a chance to spend about three hours wearing noise-cancelling earmuffs or blindfolds, or use a wheelchair to get around.

Saif Al Adawi, a 10-year-old Emirati, said he wanted to see how those with hearing impairments go about their daily lives.

“I learnt that learning is an important skill for them. And I felt the need to have more people sign what they were hearing so that I could also keep up with my classmates,” he said.

Egyptian Youmna Abul Qaraya, 11, opted to spend her day in a wheelchair.

“I lost my balance twice, and found that some areas, such as the bathrooms, were hard to access. Having experienced this, I would definitely look into how to help those who must use wheelchairs every day,” she said.

In addition, pupils in Grades 2, 3 and 5 undertook several activities designed to give them a taste of what it is like to live with special needs. For example, they were asked to lip read, or draw images that were described to them while they were blindfolded, or use their non-dominant hands to write paragraphs.

“This is the second year we have organised these events, and we look forward to extending it to more pupils in the future,” Rampersaud said.