The United Arab
Emirates (UAE) is one of the most significant oil producers in the
world. Since declaring independence from the United Kingdom in 1971,
the UAE has relied on its hydrocarbons to support its economy. Today
its oil and natural gas makes the UAE one of the worlds wealthiest
nations, ranking it eighth in the world. Production of these hydrocarbons
is by state-owned Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC).
While the country grows, the need for disability rights becomes more
apparent. ABILITYs Chet Cooper spoke to social responsibility
manager of ADNOC by phone in Abu Dhabi.
Shereen Alnowais: So how are you?
Chet Cooper: Im good. Its late there.
Alnowais: No, its not too late. Its 10 oclock on
Cooper: So its dinnertime.
Alnowais: Yes, dinnertime. I am actually in a restaurant, but I told
them I have an international call and I will come back. So I left
the restaurant because its too noisy.
Cooper: I thought I heard noise in the background. I smelled some
food as well.
Alnowais: (laughs) Is it clear for you, to hear me? Should
I go somewhere else?
Cooper: Can you go down two blocks and make a leftno, youre
Alnowais: (laughs) Okay, I like that. Are we okay to talk now?
Cooper: Yes. Well start with, when you were three years old
Alnowais: What? When I was three years old? Oh, my! (laughs)
Cooper: Too far back?
Alnowais: (laughs) No, no! Dont go too far! This is veryI
Cooper: I know youre working in corporate social responsibility.
Tell me about your background, how you got into what youre doing.
Alnowais: Yes. I have been working in corporate social responsibility
(CSR) since 2009, weve been doing a lot of CSR initiatives for
a long time, our company is around 51 years old. Before it was called
CSR we had initiatives, just wasnt named under that, we were
helping and supporting the society inside the company and outside
But now, since 2009, we are doing everything under the CSR as a title
and as a function.
Cooper: How did you get involved with ABILITIESme?
Alnowais: They approached us to be part of their initiatives as a
special needs sponsor, so we were very interested about the idea,
and especially me, because I have a passion and like helping people
as part of my job. Plus its in my nature, so when the CO sent
the email to me to contact ABILITIESme, I was doing this from my heart
and from passion. I did my best to get the sponsorship from my main
company ADNOC, and I was fighting to have the higher amount, as much
as I can. I proposed to have the CSR, be the sponsorship title and
be the CSR partner for ABILITIESme. From there the approval came,
and we started to work with them as a partner.
The first event was during Ramadan. It was very interesting. We did
a forum talking about our role in CSR, especially for the special
needs and what we are planning to give in the coming project. This
was a very good approach for us to raise the awareness in the community
not only here, but the whole UAE, to raise the awareness about people
with special needs and the different kinds of disabilities that we
may have. We should concentrate about how to get our people to know
that they have the right to live their life, to be part of society
and to take care of them.
Cooper: What has your CSR department done so far around disability
Alnowais: So far we are just giving the special needs centers and
nonprofit organizations donations, yearly donations. We plan in our
budget a yearly donation for all the special needs centers. If they
have any needs or any kind of support requests, they approach us by
sending a letter that We need this kind of support and
we raise this letter to our top management to approve it, and then
weactually mego to the center and give them the support
and the donation from the company. If we have any social events, we
usually invite them by our company, to be part of the event.
Cooper: Have you done anything connected to hiring people with disabilities?
Alnowais: Yes, but not that much. We are starting to hire people,
and this came from the government of Emirate, that there is a rule
coming, like a policy, to hire persons with disabilities. We are trying
now, in 2014 and 2015, to start hiring, especially for the people
that have developmental disabilities that can do simple jobs, receptionist,
simple administration, typing, secretary jobs that can give them the
right to be part of the work flow.
Cooper: You probably arent familiar with ABILITY Jobs, the
first web-based employment program for people with disabilities. Started
in 1995. The résumé bank, for example, has job seekers
with disabilities who have PhDs, engineer degrees, are lawyers, as
Alnowais: And what kind of disability?
Cooper: Every kind. People that use wheelchairs, have prosthetics,
hard of hearing, low vision, dyslexia, etc... Oftentimes people think
more of the disability than the persons ability. As youre aware,
the smartest person alive, Stephen Hawkings, doesnt walk or
talk and uses assistive technology to communicate. The focus should
be on peoples ability, not their disability.
Alnowais: I can understand that. The problem here is that the culture
is not there yet. We need to start to recognize people with disabilities.
We are still not like the US. Here, unfortunately, we still dont
have that culture. There are centers, but we are very behind in hiring
people or even the disability movement, we are a little bitI
dont know how to say it, but we are not like the States.
I talked with ABILITIESme about the lack of understanding with learning
disabilities. I see that with my son, no real accommodation or the
right intervention program. We have a lack of educational assessments
here, and even in our schools we dont have a learning disability
department or learning support. Ive been through this in my
country, unfortunately. Thats why I will take my son to study
outside of the country, because in America, they have a department
for the learning disability that will make me more comfortable to
have my son study there and have the capability to continue his higher
education with confidence, because hes very smart. In my country,
he cant study in the right way because of the lack of accommodations.
Thats why I have a passion in this area.
Cooper: ABILITIESme can bring awareness to different sectors, the
government, corporations, and society in general.
Alnowais: Yes, I told them, in the future, once this event is successful,
we can work together and open an individual company, called ABILITIESme.
This company will take care of all kinds of disabilitiesfor
everyone in the country. This is my proposal to them, to think about
it and lets do something together.
Alnowais (left) visits organizations that teach skills in sewing,
assembly and frame making. Alnowais is also
working on developing the Taleem
Learning Center, to help students with dyslexia.
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