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SMA Engages Global Change-Makers On Ideas For A More Accessible Society

Manal Ataya, Director-General of the Sharjah Museums Authority, SMA, recently engaged with two inspirational speakers in a webinar dedicated to highlighting the role of Arab women who are devoted to contributing to greater awareness, social responsibility and policy change for persons with disabilities.

Coinciding with the UN International Day of Persons with Disabilities, the webinar which was hosted on 2nd December, 2020, by the Good Society Forum, digitally connects change-makers from around the world, engages them on ideas and inspires action to build a good society.

During the panel discussion, which was hosted by Emma Sky, the co-founder of the Good Society Forum, and moderated by co-founder Nizam Uddin, Ataya highlighted the UAE’s efforts and experience in providing better inclusion of people with disabilities and ensuring their full equal rights are protected.

"The UAE, particularly Sharjah, is a model for the inclusion of persons with disabilities which has made great strides in empowering people with disability and ensuring their full integration into society with full access to healthcare, education and employment under UAE law," Ataya said.

Ataya praised the efforts of H.H. Dr. Sheikh Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah, and his wife, H.H Sheikha Jawaher bint Mohammed Al Qasimi, Chairperson of the Supreme Council for Family Affairs, who have placed the inclusion and wellbeing of people with disabilities at the top of the emirate’s social, human and economic development agenda.

"The Sharjah Museums Authority has launched several initiatives and tailored programmes specifically designed for children and adults with different disabilities over the past six years as accessibility is central to our mission in our museums," she said.

Ataya highlighted some of the initiatives and programmes of the Authority that are aimed at the inclusion of people with disabilities, including guided tours for the hearing impaired, the blind and special programmes for autistic children.

Several SMA museums recently received the "Accessible for Disability Certificate" from the World Disability Union. More museums will follow next year after meeting all regulations and guidelines for disabled-friendly amenities and considerations.

Ataya stressed the need for assessing the situation of people with disabilities and identifying their most important barriers.

"These barriers include, negative attitudes and stigma, physical barriers in the design of buildings and infrastructure in general and institutional barriers where reasonable accommodations are not made that excludes people with disability from education, healthcare, employment and community life, depriving them of opportunities essential to their social development and well-being," Ataya said.

Ataya also emphasised the necessity to enhance global efforts to reduce the discrimination associated with disability and ensure action is taken by adopting transformative policies and a human-centred empathetic community approach, while harnessing the collective power of civil society to support the rights of people with disabilities, citing the UAE’s and Sharjah’s successful approach.

The webinar’s host, Emma Sky is the Director of Yale World Fellows and a Senior Fellow at Yale University’s Jackson Institute, where she teaches Middle East politics and global affairs.

Speaking at the webinar also was Dr. Heidi Al-Askary, a Saudi trained speech-language pathologist, who is currently the CEO of Special Olympics Saudi Arabia, and Sara Minkara, a blind activist and founder of Empowerment Through Integration, ETL, which works with blind children in Lebanon to instil confidence in them and teach them life skills.

ETL also runs a summer camp for both blind and sighted children.

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