Increasing Disability Awareness within the United Arab Emirates

The UAE has become home to a growing number of innovative technologies and ground breaking architecture, including the Burj Khalifa; the world’s tallest building. Cities such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi have, almost overnight, become recognised as major global cities, up there with the likes of London, New York and Tokyo.


The UAE is a growing tourist destination with Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum wanting to double Dubai’s tourism by 2020. To aid in maximising tourism it is important that spaces and facilities are accessible for a wide range of users, including disabled people.

In some cases the UAE can be problematic for disabled people, as also noticed by Srin Madipalli (2014) who acknowledged the good and bad points about Dubai in terms of disabled access. Whilst the good points should be celebrated, the bad points should be worked upon in order to create a more accessible UAE. This includes implementing more drop kerbs in Dubai, and creating more accessible transport links.


I have visited the UAE on several occasions, as a disabled tourist, and I have noticed how accommodating the buildings are for disabled people, as well as how spaces and facilities can be improved to provide greater access. What I would like to stress is that some of the accessible spaces were not just designed for wheelchair users but a whole range of disabled people. This is an important point as all too often accessible design for disabled people seems to begin and end with wheelchair users. This can be problematic for those who do not use a wheelchair, as spaces still remain inaccessible.

Recently I have completed my PhD from Newcastle University, entitled: The Social and Spatial Experiences of Dwarfs in Public Spaces. Half of the thesis focused on the problems of access for dwarfs due to spaces and facilities being designed and constructed for the average sized person. Another finding addressed how disabled spaces and facilities are often inaccessible as they only cater for wheelchair users. I proposed that adopting a more encompassing design concept, such as Universal Design, would increase accessibility for a wider range of users, including those with a body size which exceeds the norm, those with sensory impairments, and arthritic conditions.

Universal Design focuses on not just the removal of structural barriers but aims to achieve a more inclusive design approach (Iwarsson and Stahl, 2003). A more inclusive design approach would mean designing spaces for the majority of the population, resulting in spaces being suitable for range of different people. Universal Design not only accommodates for more common types of impairments, including wheelchair users, but for a wider range of impairments, as well as different users within society, including children and older people.

In terms of body size, Universal Design aims to accommodate for both the tall and the small, and the fat and the thin, thus not discriminating one when providing for another. This is done through either providing multiple facilities provided at different heights, or adjustable facilities. Examples include, the “hi-low” water fountains which are made up of two spouts, at different levels, using the same plumping function (Steinfeld and Maisel, 2012). Universal Design permits people to carryout daily activities without hindrance or inconvenience (Barnes, 2011). Another example is a door handle placed too high restricting access for someone with dwarfism. Using Universal Design the solution would be to either fit a longer door handle which is both suitable for tall and short people or to implement an automatic door.


As a disabled person and someone with several years of research experience, specialising in disability, my mission is to help to create more accessible environments for a range of disabled people. Overall I feel I have the right knowledge and ability to help create a more accessible UAE which would help to increase tourism.


Barnes, C. (2011) ‘Understanding Disability and the Importance of Design for All’    Journal  of Accessibility and Design for All, 1(1): 55-80

Iwarsson, S. and Stahl, A. (2003) ‘Accessibility, Usability and Universal Design – Positioning and Definition of Concepts Describing Person-Environment Relationships’ Disability and Rehabilitation 25 (2) 57-66

Madipalli, S. (2014) Accessibility in Dubai: the great, the good, the bad and the annoying. Disability Horizons [online] Available from: (Accessed 04/01/2015)

Steinfeld, E. and Maisel, J.L. (2012) Universal Design: Creating Inclusive Environments, Hoboken: John Wiley and Son


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