When Hafsa Qadeer watches her brother Ahmed play the piano in front of an audience, she wonders if he really is disabled or if the world just has not yet learned how to fully include people of determination in society.
Ahmed, who is 17, is a self-taught pianist, composer and avid reader. He was also born with spina bifida, a birth defect involving an incomplete closing of the spine and its surrounding membranes.
He’s also the reason Hafsa, 25, has dedicated much of her life to inclusion. She has done that through her work as a manager for the Abu Dhabi 2019 Special Olympics World Summer Games and, last year, by founding Inclusive, the UAE’s first online interactive platform for people of determination.
“I am so proud of the steps my sister has taken to create her brainchild, Inclusive,” says Ahmed. “The amazing ecosystem built around the platform reflects the beauty of her work. I’ll always remember the times she encouraged me to come out of my comfort zone to present Inclusive, along with other things I did not feel comfortable doing a year ago, and to be inspired from everything she has done.”
At a Federal National Council meeting last year, Hessa Buhumaid, the Minister for Community Development, said that of the 19,151 citizens with disabilities in the UAE, more than 90 percent do not have jobs, which leaves them isolated and excluded from society.
“Growing up, I realized it’s not people who are disabled, it’s the approach of a community towards a person of determination that can be disabling and create inequality,” explains Hafsa. “It’s important to realize inclusion is a generalized behavior within communities.”
Inclusive aims to change that through three pillars: community, awareness and opportunity.
“We encourage everyone in the community to collaborate with us and make their programs more inclusive,” says Hafsa. “We are here as catalysts to facilitate this transition to more inclusive communities.”
The goal is to facilitate communication between individuals, special centers, policymakers, government bodies, institutions and enterprises devoted to inclusion.
Inclusive was one of 10 startups chosen out of 500 applications from across the world to make it into the first cohort of the Ma’an Social Incubator. With funding from Ma’an Abu Dhabi and Innovate4Good, in March Inclusive launched an online platform where people congregate, interact and get involved in everyday activities and events, both on and offline.
When Hafsa asks Inclusive members about their greatest aspirations, she often hears people say they simply want to go out on their own.
“Everywhere they go, a person of determination always has a shadow person with them, someone to look after them and make sure they’re safe,” she says. “We realized that [in that situation] both individuals would lose part of their identity.”
People can sign up as a person of determination, relative or inclusion supporter and find or post jobs, events or volunteering opportunities. People can also connect and share stories, images and videos.
Hafsa’s brother is an example of how life-changing Inclusive can be.
“Before Inclusive, I only knew about two or three other people of determination across the globe,” explains Ahmed. “But thanks to Inclusive, I am now in touch with many more, which is amazing because I can learn a lot from their stories and empower them through my experiences.”
The app also keeps track of and displays the events the user has attended, their story or background, followers and shared content. In building an online database, Inclusive aims to address another massive gap in the region: the dearth of reliable statistics on disability. Inclusive also has a community consultancy, which offers advice and training for companies and schools, raises awareness and advises on a range of issues, including recruitment.
Last autumn, Inclusive held the first-ever online recipe contest in the UAE for teams of determination in collaboration with Abu Dhabi Culinary Season. In January, the organization worked with the UK’s World Boxing Council to host a boxing class for children of determination at Warehouse Gym in Al Quoz. In February, they collaborated with Blank Canvas for “Expression Sessions XVII,” a community-building collaborative painting session at the Youth X Hub in Abu Dhabi.
Less than a year after launching, they have partnered with more than a dozen organizations, including the Mohammed bin Rashid Center for Special Education, Wonderful Minds, The Butterfly Foundation and Wings of Angelz.
Esha Khurshid, who joined Inclusive as the co-founder in charge of on-the-ground initiatives and programs, shared the same values in her previous consultancy, RISE Events.
“When people consider the importance of being involved, we like to ask them to imagine if they became a person of determination,” says Khurshid. “They would like to still be appreciated and included for the talent they have to offer.”
Although there is still a lot of fear and lack of consciousness around people of determination in the UAE, in recent years Khurshid says the country “has become the epicenter of inclusion.”
Particularly significant are the UAE National Policy for Empowering People with Different Abilities and the introduction of the term “people of determination.”
In addition to hosting the Special Olympics in March 2019, the UAE Cabinet approved a policy to protect people of determination from abuse. In December the Zayed Higher Organization for People of Determination in Abu Dhabi opened Bee Cafe, the first cafe fully staffed by people of determination.
Inclusive has also been active during Covid-19 isolation measures, adding virtually accessible events, opening their community outreach program and offering DIY tutorials from home, using the hashtag #IAmInclusive.
“We are making sure that specially during this time, People of Determination in the UAE and globally, are actively engaged and everyone from the community plays their role from home,” says Hafsa.
Create your Inclusive account and register for events and jobs through the online platform, follow them on Instagram @Iminclusive or reach out on [email protected] You can also listen in to Hafsa and Ahmed’s story on The livehealthy.ae Podcast.
Issa handles multimedia at livehealthy.ae and got involved in fitness and healthy living after graduating high school. The sedentary lifestyle and junk food diet of his teen years had taken a toll on his wellbeing. Now, he makes sure to put his health first. Issa earned his bachelor’s in marketing and has since found his passion in media and arts.