Children with Disability in the United Arab Emirates and the Services they Receive

Early Childhood Interventions September 24, 2014

The author of this post is a visiting scholar with the Georgetown University Center for Child and Human Development and a student with the Georgetown University Certificate in Early Intervention Program

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) one of the Arabic Countries of the Middle East is comprised of seven emirates. Situated on the Arabian Gulf, east of Saudi Arabia and north of Oman, the UAE has a long history of local tribal lifestyle and of later European influences. The country has dramatically emerged into the mainstream of modernism over the past 42 years. The economy is driven by oil and gas and recently tourism. In 1951, the Trucial States Council was formed, bringing all the leaders of the various groups throughout the region together. Seven emirates, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ras-Al-Kahaimah, Fujairah, Umm Al Qaiwain, Ajman, joined together forming the United Arab Emirates in 1971.

map of the united arab emirates

The major religion of the country is Islam. Ninety-six percent of the population is Muslim and the rest are Christian or Hindu . The population of the UAE is approximately 8 million people, of which only 20-22 percent are Emirati citizens. Most of the population is made up of expatriates, about 50% of whom are from the Indian subcontinent. The population as a high percentage of young people (Table 1). According to the World Health Organization approximately 11 percent of the UAE population has a disability. This percentage is consistent with what the WHO projects is the world’s population of people with disabilities.

The Government of the UAE is committed to the welfare of children. Children who are citizens receive free health care and education. The standards of health care are considered to be generally high in the United Arab Emirates. During the strong economic years the government spent a significant amount of money on health care. According to the government, total expenditures on health care from 1996 to 2003 were US $436 million.

The UAE is interested in developing services for people with disabilities. The UAE Disability Act (Federal Law No. 29/2006) was passed in 2006 to protect the rights of people with disabilities. This law stipulates that UAE nationals with disabilities have the same rights to work and occupy public positions. In addition, the UAE ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on the March 19, 2010.

In March 2014, HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE, in his capacity as the Ruler of Dubai, issued Law No. (2) of 2014 “to protect the rights of people with disabilities in the emirate of Dubai”. The law supports Federal Law No. (29) concerning the rights of people with disabilities, and supports providing high-quality medical care and social services, boosts public awareness of people with disabilities, contributes to integrating people with disabilities into society, and reaffirms their participation in social development .

Services for people with disabilities are offered primarily in three types of programs:

o Governmental Centers, which are run by the federal, or local government (state), offering free services especially to the citizens . o Semi-governmental Centers, usually organized by non-profit charitable organizations, offering free or semi free services. o Private centers or schools or rehabilitation clinics which require a fee or payment for services.

Services offered to people with disabilities according to age group include the following (Table 2) :

types of programs comparing with age group
Table 2

Each emirate (state) has its own rules and regulations regarding programs for people with disabilities. The emirate of Sharjah has a long history of concern for people with disabilities. Sharjah City for Humanitarian Services (SCHS ) is a large, local, non-profit organization founded in 1979 as a branch of the Arab Family Organization in the Gulf region. The purpose of the Arab Family Organization is to support Arab families and provide needed social services. SCHS is considered the first institute in UAE to provide specialized services to persons with disabilities.

The vision of the SCHS is to be a leader in advocacy, inclusion, and empowerment for persons with disabilities in the United Arab Emirates and the Arab world. The mission is to provide services in early intervention, community outreach, education, rehabilitation, and job placement for people with disabilities assisting them to become independent, self-reliant members of society.

Sharjah City for Humanitarian Services (SCHS) has almost 500 employees, serving around 3000 persons with disability yearly. People served include all age groups. What is unique is that the SCHS serves all residents, including non-emirates. SCHS has three branches in the Emirate of Sharjah. SCHS offers a variety of programs via specialized centers, departments, and schools covering several programs:

• Al Amal school for the students with hearing Impairments and Al Amal Kindergarten for students with hearing Impairments , ( nursery to secondary level (preschool to grade 12). • Al Wafa Schools for developmental training for students with intellectual disabilities from age 5 years and above. • Sharjah Autism center for children with autism from age 5 years and above. • Early intervention center for children from birth till age 5 years. • Physical and Occupational Therapy Dept. for children with motor and sensory impairments from 0-18 years. • Vocational Rehabilitation and Training Dept. from age 15 years and above. • Sharjah City Audiology Center for all people with hearing impairments (hearing test and follow up) all age group. • There is also a unit for people with visual impairment offering the services for all age groups.

As mentioned there is three branches of SCHS in Sharjah having the same mentioned facilities and programs organized regionally throughout Sharjah:

  1. SCHS Middle region (Al Thiad branch).
  2. SCHS East region (Khorfakkan Branch).
  3. SCHS East region (Kalbaa branch).

One of the most important centers of SCHS is the early intervention center (EIC ) established in 1992 servicing children from birth till 5 years of age. This center is the first one in the region, to offer services to young children, their families and the community. The Center has a variety of departments and facilities:

o Social services department o Family counseling and training department including home based services o Speech-language therapy department o Educational department including a preschool program for children 3-5 years o Visual impairment department all ages o Physical and Occupational Therapy department o AVT and Audiology test department for all ages o Psychology department

There is also a screening program at the local nursery and preschool programs, and an inclusion follow up program with the local schools .

The Center serves about 350 children annually and has served around 2700 children since official opening in 1992. Each year 120 new children are enrolled in the center services.

Finally the SCHS is looking to influence the community’s attitude throughout Sharjah to guarantee real integration and inclusion for people with disabilities in all aspects of life (Educational, Medical, Social) .

Islam sees disability as morally neutral. It is seen neither as a blessing nor as a curse. Clearly, disability is therefore accepted as being an inevitable part of the human condition. It is simply a fact of life which has to be addressed appropriately by the society of the day, thus, people with disabilities are given an opportunity for independency. Also, federal law 29/2006 of the UAE provides Emirates with disabilities the right to be part of the society. However, implementing federal law 29/2006 continues to be challenging.

Although there is interest in integrated, inclusionary services most services in the UAE continue to be delivered through centers for special needs. Additionally, the UAE lacks schools that accept children with disability without restrictions. There continues to be a lack of services and service providers to serve all children with disabilities even using segregated, isolated programs, especially in early intervention. Creating appropriate early childhood services using contemporary evidence based programs for children birth to three needs to be emphasized.


  5. Bradshaw, K., Tennant, L., & Lydiatt, S. (2004). Special education in the United Arab Emirates: Anxieties, attitudes, and aspirations. International Journal of Special Education (19)1, 49-55 .
  7. Dr. Christopher Reynolds ; Federal Law 29 – The Implications for Private Schools in the UAE 8.

Mohammad Yousef GU Certificate in Early Intervention (2015) Physical Therapists, Sharjah City for Humanitarian Services (SCHS)