DUBAI // Dubai is embarking on Dh10 million study that will steer it towards becoming one of the world’s most disabled-friendly cities by 2020.
Schools, hospitals, parks and transport are among the targets for change in the research, which was launched on Wednesday.
By the end of the year, four pilot projects to improve access will be chosen as models to be replicated across the city by 2020.
“This is the first step in our roadmap until we reach 2020,” said Abdullah Al Shaibani, vice chairman of the Higher Committee for the Protection of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
“It is a long journey that requires a lot of effort and will start with an evaluation of what we have on the ground.
“We will bring all the international standards together to see what fits our environment.
“Once this is ready we will prepare standards to cover our buildings, parks, hospitals, infrastructure and public transport.”
Consultants and government officials will choose the sites for access development after spending the next eight months identifying areas where access is a problem.
The study will produce uniform standards for ramp sizes and width, building entrances and toilets.
Disabled people will be able to contribute their ideas and send photographs of problem areas through a hotline and smartphone application.
Khaled Al Kamda, director general of the Community Development Authority, said input from people with disabilities was critical.
“The whole project is about a barrier-free city,” Mr Al Kamda said. “Once we remove barriers and there are no obstacles, there is nothing they cannot do and nothing they cannot use.
The project includes a five-year plan to ensure that buildings, pavements, road infrastructure, buses, trains and marine and air transport are suitable.
Accessibility is “a challenge we face every day, so we have full experience of what is needed”, said Majid Al Usaimi, a committee member who uses a wheelchair.
Taking part in Wednesday’s launch were the Higher Committee, the Roads and Transport Authority, Dubai Municipality and the Community Development Authority.
Mr Al Usaimi said buildings must be made accessible to everyone after a 2014 decree by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, to protect the rights of people with disabilities and support their participation in society.
Developments must incorporate the standards in their design, while older areas would need to be revamped, said Salem Alshafei, the Dubai Executive Council director of programmes for people with disabilities .
“We know the Metro system is accessible from inside, but outskirts of the stations have issues of access,” said Mr Alshafei. “The challenge lies in the existing city and some areas will have to be retrofitted.” For new areas, he said, no building permit would be issued, road designed, or transport order given unless they met the new codes.
Work on implementing the four pilot projects is expected to begin early next year.
“It will mean breaking kerbs to bring them lower, removing barriers, making road access wider and installing elevators where needed,” said Mr Alshafei. “We don’t want the pilots to just sit on paper but actually showcase the plan so people can realise the difference.”
Advocacy groups welcomed the initiative. “This is definitely the beginning and only when we voice our opinions will change happen,” said Shobhika Kalra, the founder of the group WingsOfAngelz.
The group’s volunteers work with hotels, malls and the RTA to build ramps for people using wheelchairs.
“People need to have more awareness of what people on wheelchairs are capable of.”