Soft sand and wheelchairs make a visit to the beach an arduous, if not impossible, venture for the disabled and those with children in pushchairs. But now a beach in Dubai has changed all that with an access walkway.
DUBAI // Going to the beach is a big part of many people’s lives in the UAE, but spare a thought for the disabled because, clearly, wheelchairs and sand do not work well together.
So wheelchair users and even parents with pushchairs were pleased with the opening of a 135-metre accessibility walkway at the popular Kite Beach.
The walkway takes people close to the seafront without the stress of battling through sand, while another pathway leads from the public car park to the beach walkway.
Alona Markova, 32, has a three-year-old and a six-month-old. The Bulgarian expatriate said the ramp made a huge difference to her being able to go to the beach without having to depend on others.
“When you have little ones, you always leave the house with so many bags and things to remember,” she said. “You never travel light, so a day at the beach can end up a very heavy, hard day when you’re by yourself.
“This pathway has meant I can take the buggy all the way down the beach now rather than trying to carry everything, so it makes me feel a lot more independent without my husband or friends with me.”
Until now, the beach had been out of bounds for many wheelchair users and disability activists said the new walkway marked a turning point.
Dr Hibah Shata, director of the Child Early Intervention Medical Centre in Dubai Healthcare City, is an advocate for those with special needs and disabilities.
“All the government departments are starting to put things into place for this [accessibility],” she said. “It’s moving from regulation into application. For so long we didn’t see disabled people empowered in the community at all and the way people looked at them was just to give them charity or money.
“But today, the whole vision is that they’re individuals with rights and have to access places to be able to be integrated.”
Briton James Price, founder of accessallrooms.com, a website for wheelchair-bound and disabled travellers, is himself in a wheelchair. The former rugby player has been to Dubai every year since 2003 for the Rugby 7s tournaments and features many of the city’s resorts on the website.
“I think it is extremely important to have a beach access ramp, because most tourists to Dubai from the UK go for the weather and beach,” he said. “As a wheelchair user myself, not being able to get on the beach independently or with a little help, is very frustrating. I want to be able to advise our clients that Dubai is a great all-round destination for disabled people, so this is a big tick and I am pleased to hear it.”
Since his first visit, much had changed, he said. “When I first came, few hotels had quality wheelchair access but now you can find lots of hotels with excellent wheelchair access facilities,” Mr Price said.
“In the early days of coming over to the Dubai Rugby 7s in 2003 they had zero disabled facilities or viewing platforms. Fast forward to this year’s event and there are air-conditioned disabled toilets and ramp access into the main stands.”
But there was still more work to be done on Dubai’s streets, he said. “Sadly, too, it is also difficult to find any information online from the tourism department of disabled facilities, transport, et cetera,” he said. “Customers need information to travel, and a lack of it ruins confidence, so if they can’t find the info they need to make their trip comfortable they will go somewhere that does.”
Fernando Gibaja, general manager at Zabeel Saray hotel, on The Palm Jumeirah, agreed the disabled market was vital. All its restaurants, bars, spa, beach and pool are accessible from the ground floor.
“It’s very important for five-star hotels to accommodate every type of guest, regardless of disability,” he said. “We are constantly adapting and evolving our offerings to suit all disabilities.”
Source: The National