The organizers of the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019 undertook a study about the kind of support people of determination get in the region. Image Credit: SUPPLIED

Abu Dhabi: Gulf countries are paving the way for a more receptive work environment for People of Determination with intellectual disabilities, according to 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.

The study titled 'Regional Perceptions and Determined Aspirations', which was conducted by Nielsen Holdings plc across eight countries: UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain, Jordan, Morocco and Egypt, found that the UAE government is leading the disability support in the Middle East and North Africa region.

The study, which aims to provide an "understanding of the regional public perceptions of people with intellectual disabilities and an understanding of the lives, aspirations and challenges of people with intellectual disabilities themselves" found that there was a high awareness of government disability initiatives in the UAE compared to other social aspects like divorce and unemployment.

Seventy-six per cent out 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 coverage and sample size of the study included: UAE, 678 interviews, eight in-depth interviews; KSA, 505 interviews, 6 in-depth interviews; Kuwait, 400 interviews, four in-depth interviews; Oman, 410 interviews, four in-depth interviews; Bahrain, 404 interviews, four in-depth interviews; Jordan, 400 interviews, four in-depth interviews; Morocco, 400 interviews, four in-depth interviews and Egypt, 1,038 interviews, eight in-depth interviews.

Nielsen, the global measurement and data analytics company, has undertaken the study in the first and second quarter of 2018.

Nielsen said that one billion people, or 15 per cent of the world's population experience some form of disability. "Globally, between two and three per cent of the global population has an intellectual disability, which translates to as many as 200 million people," it said, noting that data from the MENA region is "scarce."

The study further stated, "There are indications that the incidence rate is much higher" for reasons such as consanguineous marriages (marriage between close relatives), weak access to and availability of quality health services in some countries and parts within the MENA region, according to 2005 World Bank report on disabilities.

It is imperative to have policies to integrate people with intellectual disabilities into all aspects of life and society, the study emphasised, adding, "this would benefit not only the individual but also the community."

This is the first comprehensive regional baseline set towards understanding the perceptions towards people with intellectual disabilities in the Middle East and North Africa region, the study added.

Top findings:

1. Attitude seen

Sentiments towards people with intellectual disabilities are largely positive through the community's empathy, but this does not translate into action. The study categorised the findings in Family and General Public, saying that the lack of acceptance and unsupportive behaviour was less pronounced across expatriate Asian families.

"A higher proportion of the community feels that a person with an intellectual disability should be allowed to marry and have kids in Morocco, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE," the study said.

The study has laid out action points which are "educate healthcare professionals, promote inclusive community activities and educate the general public about intellectual disability."

2. More inclusive

A need to broaden community horizons on the potential opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities away from a "special education system."

The study has recommended the following: enable education and workplace environment to be more inclusive, create supportive communities for parents and caretakers of people with intellectual disabilities, provide reliable/sponsored information sources to caretakers.

3. Sharpen communication skills 

There is an opportunity for empowering people with intellectual disabilities to improve interpersonal skills and ability to handle difficult situations, the study pointed out, it also recommended the provision of development programmes for people with intellectual disabilities.

4. Infastructural issues

The study said that formal education is stronger in Gulf countries, however, a gap exists in non-Gulf countries in terms of education infrastructure. It has recommended revamping the educational system to accommodate students of varying abilities. It has also laid emphases on training all education professionals, a need to improve specialised schools and considering education financial support.

5. Boost needed at workplaces

One of the findings said that Gulf countries are paving the way for a more receptive work environment for people with intellectual disabilities. The study recommended raising awareness of benefits for hiring people with intellectual disabilities in the professional organisations; for example, creating employer incentive programme to those who hire them.

 

6. Niche but necessary

 

Health facilities are not seen as a major obstacle, according to the study, however, "there is still room for improvement especially in Gulf countries."

Investing in specialised healthcare professionals or programmes, provision of the holistic healthcare system for people with intellectual disabilities and considering healthcare financial aid/insurance have been suggested as action points.

7. Practical problems

The study affirmed that inclusion in sports is supported in theory, but in reality "it is usually limited in and only within the intellectual disability community." It has recommended "changing mindsets about the power of sport, expanding Special Olympics Unified Sports and Unified Champion Schools Programme."

8. From young to old

Sports are associated not only with social inclusion, but also with physical well-being and the enhancement of self-esteem, one of the findings read. It suggested encouraging sports inclusion at an early age, creating a database of opportunities available in schools and communities and coach training and development.

9. Where ticketing counters come in

There is an opportunity to improve various facilities in the community, which, according to findings, would encourage further inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities. It has recommended expansion of specialised counters/windows across different facilities, which would be an introduction of regulations and guidelines on infrastructure for people with intellectual disabilities.

10. The social media angle

The study pointed out that social media and gamification have been identified as platforms to connect and engage with people with intellectual disabilities. It has recommended exploring social media as a platform for inclusion, and identifying opportunities for "gaming for inclusion and empowerment."