It is necessary for modern societies to embrace and include their special needs citizens. In line with Qatar National Vision 2030, the empowerment and integration of people with special abilities in society are currently one of Qatar’s main socio-educational priorities. This is achieved through the development of specific programs that cater to their needs, protect their rights, and provide them with equal opportunities.
Although the term “disability” is used even in legal documents, the word is profoundly discriminatory and limiting– not only for the person addressed but also for wider society. The etymology of the word is [dis] + [ability], where the first word-forming element, means “lack of”.
Labeling a person as “disabled” indicates that society is denying this person the opportunity to become an active and useful member. Hence, emphasizing the incapacity rather than the special talents this person can potentially grow. And that is why the term “disabilities” has been replaced below wherever possible with “special abilities”.
Being at the forefront of the countries signing the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) Qatar ratified the Convention in 2008 and in April 2015 adopted the law on persons with disabilities, which covered the rights contained in the Convention. The country has developed various projects that are being regularly monitored to further enhance the quality of services offered. The number of individuals with special abilities in Qatar makes up less than 0.50% of the total population.
Qatari Law No. 2 of 2004 in respect of People with Special Needs prohibits discrimination. Among some of the rights and provisions mandated are rehabilitation, education, transportation, medical and social care, support services, access to public facilities, and employment. The law requires that 2% of all jobs in government agencies and public institutions are secured for people with special needs, including private businesses employing a minimum of 25 staff.
The country’s leadership paved the way for the inclusion and empowerment of its citizens and residents with special abilities, however, many employers are not ready to integrate them in their operations.
In Focus Groups discussions conducted on this matter earlier in 2018 as part of a Biannual Career Guidance Stakeholders Engagement Platform, participants reported their challenges and particularly addressed the need for interventions related to the transition from education to adulthood. The stigma associated with “special needs” affects the lives of the person and the family, increasing the levels of stress when dealing with uncertainty for the future.
In Qatar, most opportunities for special abilities’ people and their families are available until high school graduation, and for some till the age of 21. Fewer opportunities come later, resulting in staying at home and feeling estranged. It is important that the State together with relevant institutions work with stakeholders to create a continuum of services that usually start in middle school and include community integration, as these conditions can vastly enhance their quality of life.
QF is locally and regionally pioneering developments in the fields of education, science and community development. With the support of the leadership from QCDC and TLC both under QF, a very positive example of this synergy resulted in the creation of a practice-based paper for the enhancement of career guidance provision in secondary level students, particularly with piloting internship opportunities provided for a two months period to students with mild and moderate learning challenges.
As part of this program, career guidance interventions were integrated within special education classrooms, creating a baseline among students. Working closely with the SPED teacher, a tailored activities’ framework was created for each student to perform during the internship period.
Although some of the staff initially reported concerns about having the students on board, after the internship period they admitted that they were happy having the chance to meet and interact with them. The internship period concluded with a presentation from the students, attended by the staff, their classmates, teachers, and parents. The preliminary evaluation reported high satisfaction levels from participants, topped with parents’ and employer’s positive feedback.
This project has been an excellent learning curve for all parties. A lot more still needs to be done, including developing qualified practitioners and educators, adequate academic programs in counseling and mental health, infrastructure within organizations and promoting key social values like acceptance and inclusion from a very young age.
By empowering people with special abilities, we ensure that we positively enhance their mental, physical and social wellbeing, boost the local economy, optimize resources invested by the government and contribute towards building the prosperity envisioned by Qatar’s leadership.