Destination in focus Accessing the Middle East

The Middle East is taking progressive strides towards providing accessible options for travellers. Sheena Adesilu investigates

The Middle East has adopted a stronger stance on accessibility in recent years, with many governments and organisations taking proactive measures.

From wheelchair-adapted transportation solutions and accessible activities to sign language interpreters and audio announcements, inclusivity is gaining traction in the region.

Open to all…

In fact, the UAE introduced the clinical term ‘People of Determination’ for those with disabilities or special needs and all seven emirates have enforced a raft of accessibility regulations for travellers who need additional support.

Equal rights and protection from discrimination are top of the agenda, with The People of Determination Protection from Abuse Policy and the Emirati Sign Language Directory taking centre stage.

The Zayed Higher Organisation in Abu Dhabi also provides support in the form of counselling and training.

The UAE boasts several accessible parks like Dubai Miracle Garden or Yas Waterworld Abu Dhabi.
Animal lovers are also catered for, with many accessible zoos in the country, such as Sharjah Breeding Centre for Endangered Arabian Wildlife or Dubai Safari Park. Shopping malls across the Emirates are equipped with wheelchair ramps and Dubai International (DXB) and Dubai World Central (DWC), offer a full range of special services and facilities, starting with prioritised drop-off zones, dedicated check-in areas and accessible washrooms.

There are also financial incentives available for disabled tourists such as discounts on services and attractions. This could include discounted fares on public transport or reduced entrance fees at museums and parks.

Raising the bar…

Paralympic medalist Kevin Paul recently partnered with Visit Dubai to raise accessibility awareness and highlight the most accessible sites for fitness in the city. These include Wellfit Gym, Aventura and Jumeirah Public Beach.

For some family-friendly fun, LEGOLAND Dubai offers a range of accessible rides. Guests can claim a Ride Access Pass to enter most rides via a listed entrance.

It is also advised to choose a designated Responsible Helper to assist with getting in and out of the rides.

There are wheelchair-friendly lifts and a Q-Fast entrance, too.

Access Mark

Mark Dyer, Accessibility Director of Destination Development at Red Sea Global in Saudi Arabia:

How can the travel sector facilitate accessible infrastructure?

If infrastructure is designed from the outset to be accessible for disabled people, it is designed to be accessible for everyone. If businesses get that right, then the demand from disabled people will be high. Usability and flexibility of the space will increase. It’s a huge untapped market.

What can be done to mitigate anxiety for impaired people?

At the start of the booking process, disabled people want to know that you’ve listened to them. It’s really important to be honest, especially if things don’t work. Make the client aware and manage expectations. Try to encourage a level of openness and communication. It’s about keeping people safe and giving them confidence. Dignity and independence are key.

And you are developing accessible initiatives?

Yes, we’re creating a new set of technical standards that will encompass the best of global accessible design. They will also include understanding cultural requirements in the Middle East, such as the design of prayer rooms and mosques. At Red Sea Global, we offer a handful of active tours, including hiking, scuba diving and sailing. Our goal is to create different options for all abilities.

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