Established in 2008, the Ability Centre for Special Needs is one of Abu Dhabi’s little known charities. The centre focuses on academic learning as well as skills and behavioural development for children and young people from five to 30 years old with special needs. In small, sunny classes of up to five students, teachers take the time to instruct in basic levels of subjects ranging from maths to science. But the main focus here is to rehabilitate, boost confidence and build skills. For this purpose the centre also runs an Individual Education Plan (IEP) that focuses on every child’s personal needs, ranging from behavioural modification to physiotherapy and speech therapy.
Last January the centre was one of two charities (the Emirates Autism Centre being the second) that benefitted from the funds which were raised at the Saadiyat Beach Classic golf tournament. Earlier this year they also received funds from the AmCham Annual Excellence Awards gala dinner. Such initiatives have helped the Ability Centre to boost its work and invest in much-needed equipment, however, because the centre does not receive any other form of financial support, they must rely on tuition fees. At Dhs35,000 per year, the parents of some students who cannot afford the fees are forced to withdraw their children. And for kids who require such specialised education and care, this could be a serious setback.
We spoke to director Sahdia Kurshid to find out a little more about the kind of work they do and the support they are providing. Sahdia has been with the centre for over two years now and she teaches English and guides students who take part in their special photography and laser printing programme.
What are the most common disabilities that your students suffer from?
Cerebral palsy, mental illness, Down’s syndrome, dyslexia, ADHD (or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). These are the most common disabilities we deal with.
You run some external vocational training, what does this involve?
Sometimes we have experts coming in who are happy to give their time to teach the students new skills which would improve their employability. We have a carpenter at the centre who has taught them about woodwork. Over the past month we’ve had a film student from the New York University of Abu Dhabi who has been volunteering to teach students about acting and filmmaking. He’s also making a short film and one of our students, Abubaker, will be acting in this film.
That’s excellent. How old is Abubaker?
Abubaker is 25. He suffers from cerebral palsy and has difficulty walking because there is stiffness in his leg and also in his left arm.
Can you tell us about your photography and laser printing training programme?
Sure. I believe we are the first and the only special needs center in Abu Dhabi and the UAE that offers this kind of service. It is part of our vocational training programme. At the centre we teach the students how to take pictures and transfer them onto a computer. They also learn how to edit and make changes to the images, and then they learn how to engrave them onto different materials with a laser machine. Last year some of the students went to local malls where they worked at the laser printing kiosks. It was very good experience for them.
The activities you offer students include hydrotherapy and horse riding. What are the benefits of these?
All these activities are designed to enhance the children’s mental, physical, psychological and social skills to improve their attitude towards normal life.
What kind of work do you do to raise community awareness of people with disabilities?
We arrange outings, like a trip to the zoo or cinema. We participate in community activities like walks and tree planting, fashion shows, cultural celebrations and in the past we’ve invited other schools to visit the centre.
How can members of the public help support the work of the centre?
Our volunteers so far have mostly been university students, but we welcome anyone who has some skills which they can teach to our students, like music, arts and crafts etc. We accept donations of used books and toys that are in good condition. You can also help by fundraising for the centre.
The Ability Centre for Special Needs, Abu Dhabi Officers City, Villa no 2. Hassan Abdullah Khori (02 558 4341).