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Dubai A Visit to The Disability Centers


—Sharon Myers, Chair SATH-Sports and Adventure Travel Committee; SATH-Adaptive Equipment Committee
P. O. Box 313
Cloverdale, Virginia USA 24077-0313

“If one hurts, we all hurt” was the sentiment heard again and again as the kind people of Dubai welcomed me into their oasis, a realm of beauty in which culture and technology are cemented together in a multi-national society.

After learning that Dubai had hosted a world-class competition for weight lifters with disabilities, as a retired Paralympian I was anxious to see the facilities. What I saw and experienced in this far away place in the Middle East was much different than I had imagined. There are three separate clubs in the Emirates built to bring together the disabled and pro-vide opportunities for sport, work, equipment, services, scholarships, and marriage. Time did not permit me to visit the Al Ain Handicapped Club.

Norma Eslim, manager of Dubai Handicapped Club, was eager to show us around this most impressive facility. As I rolled into a huge gym with many types of wheelchairs lined up along the entire length of the gym, ready for the players to return that night for practice, memories filled my head—sounds of players chatting, cheers from excited spectators, the smell of rubber burning as wheels came to abrupt stops and whistles blowing to signal fouls.

These clubs are sponsored by government and private donations. I remembered all the different fund raising events we’d had in our home gym. I immediately thought about such a fundraiser where able-bodied VIP’s would use wheelchairs with possibly a game featuring the Ruler of Dubai, HH Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum, and his Federal Supreme Council Wheelers versus Peter Streng and his DTCM Chairioteers! After hearing about all of the good deeds and support of their Ruler, this surely would raise a lot of money and educate the public about the abilities of people with disabilities. It also would encourage more citizens with disabilities to participate. And, what a way to show off to the rest of the world via the media a part of the Arab Region far different from that which is depicted on our local news stations.

The sports facilities, specifically designed to be wheelchair friendly, were the best I’d seen anywhere in the world, including America. There were accessible accommodations to house the guest and home teams. I counted over thirty exercise machines in one room! Small, modern buses had been adapted with lifts and tie-downs for wheelchairs. Although membership is only open to men, a separate facility for women is presently under construction. A picture I have of a medal presentation with a female competitor from the Middle East wearing the Gold beside me, wearing the Silver, is a reminder of their fierce competitive spirit.

Through friends in the International Wheelchair Basketball Federation, I was introduced by e-mail to Majid Al Usaimi, manager of the Al-Thiqah Club for Handicapped, located in Sharjah, next door to Dubai. There are over three hundred male members with disabilities. The Club boasts accessible saunas, hot tubs, exercise rooms, billiard tables, huge indoor and outdoor basketball courts, tennis courts and a well-lit track and field area that serves as the training facility for local athletes who have brought home gold and silver from international meets. Most impressive was the indoor Olympic size swimming pool complete with ramps and lifts. Majid, an international table tennis champion, and I enjoyed a match, but his fast serves were more than this rusty player could handle.

Sharjah is also home to the Emirates Society for the Rehabilitation of the Blind. The third largest of the Emirates, Sharjah is a blend of the old and new, where East and West meet in a magical confluence. Modern hotels jostle for space with quaint mosques and department stores vie with traditional souks. The Society, set in an unpretentious building, has over 100 male and female members. Established in 1983, it strives to incorporate the latest technology for the blind, and the special Braille printer is a definite asset. There is a well-stocked library with shelves full of cassettes instead of printed books with the Holy Quran as one of the few texts in Braille. The Society also sponsors a national Goal Ball team, so here, too, sports are on the agenda.

While in Shar-jah I also visited the Handicapped Guardians Association, founded in 1996 by families whose children or other relatives have disabilities. Considered to be the first such national association in the Gulf countries, its goals include providing social and psychological support to parents and guardians, services for special needs children, and employment and advocacy for people with disabilities. Here I made a special connection with Board Member Kaltham Obaid Bakheet, also a wheelchair user.

On another busy day in Dubai, I stopped by the Dubai Center for Special Needs, a humanitarian organization which provides high quality services to children with developmental disabilities. Built in 1994, the center is unique in the Emirates for providing a holistic, multi-disciplinary approach to special education with each child receiving a program designed to meet his or her particular needs. Again, a more modern or better-staffed facility could not be imagined anywhere in the world.

Not only are the needs of citizens with disabilities being well served in Dubai, but also those of visitors. The shower bench in our hotel, the Hilton Jumeirah Beach, was not adequate. In search of a better bench, Peter took me to the very modern Arabian Home Health Center, which sells adaptive equipment, wheelchairs and virtually anything else you might need. They also rent scooters. Two benches were then purchased for the hotel’s two adapted rooms with roll-in showers by a most accommodating hotel manager. Now that’s service!

Finally, I want to call attention to a very important upcoming event, Rehab Dubai 2003, which will be held March 25-27 at the Dubai International Exhibition Centre. Over 5000 delegates from nearly 40 countries attended the previous event in 2000. You can find full details on their website:

A dedicated member of the Rehab Dubai Organizing Committee, Iqbal Siddiqui, kindly accompanied us on a cruise on the Creek one evening. His insights into disability issues in the Arab world, where there are estimated to be 10 million people with severe disabilities, were so fascinating that I’m afraid we missed most of the scenery! We thank him and all of our hosts in Dubai for taking the time to show us what this wonderful country has achieved for both residents and visitors with disabilities. I know I speak for Laurel as well when I say that your smiles remain in our hearts.

To learn more about visiting Dubai, contact:
The Philadelphia Office of The Govt. of Dubai Dept. of Tourism and Commerce Marketing at (215) 751-9750. Web:

From OPEN WORLD, Vol. 5, Issue 2, Fall 2002.
Copyright 2002. All rights reserved.