As we prepared to close this issue, ABILITY Magazine was packing its bags and heading to Qatar for the Second Annual International Forum on Children with Special Needs. The conference brings together policymakers, educators, persons with disabilities and leaders from around the world to raise awareness about the rights and needs of children with disabilities. The Shafallah Center for Children with Special Needs in the capital city of Doha was again set to host, with the patronage of Her Highness Sheika Mozah Bint Nasser Al-Missned and the support of Honorary Co-Chair Cherie Booth, QC, of the United Kingdom.
This conference provides a venue for raising public awareness, expanding on the momentum from the recent signing of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. This year’s International Forum on Children with Special Needs is doing this via different media channels, including Sesame Workshop, which presents a compilation of clips and Sesame Street sketches that directly attend to disability issues.
Anthony Kennedy Shriver’s Best Buddies program, working in tandem with the Shafallah Center for Children, is launching an initiative to encourage and support meaningful friendships between persons with disabilities and their typically developing peers.
The conference has rallied leaders in the media and disability world for a networking exposition of magazines, radio shows, books, PSAs and documentaries that offer a glimpse into the lives of persons with disabilities. Through these pioneering media representations, the International Forum highlights media as a positive change agent in the transformation of disability, creating a truly inclusive society.
THE SHAFALLAH CENTER
Since its inception in 1998, the recently expanded center provides educational and related services to children from ages 3 to 21, addressing intellectual and developmental disabilities, accompanying physical disabilities and autism spectrum disorders.
The school curricula are designed to best meet the needs of students. Children, adolescents and young adults with Down Syndrome, cerebral palsy accompanied by intellectual or developmental disabilities, and autism spectrum disorders make up the majority of the student population. The teachers-to-student ratio is 1:3 in all school programs except the Autism Unit, where the ratio is 1:2.
The Early Intervention Unit, for children three to five years old, includes a preschool/kindergarten and emphasizes educational and therapeutic services according to the strengths and needs of each child. At age six, students are transferred to other units or other school programs, according to the type and severity of their disabilities.
School Unit One cares for students aged 6 to 14 years with mild to moderate learning challenges, and includes special-education coursework in pre-academic, academic and pre-vocational areas. The curriculum highlights social and daily-life skills.
School Unit Two caters to students aged 6 to 21 who have moderate to severe intellectual or developmental disabilities. The majority have multiple disabilities, often with a combination of intellectual and physical disabilities. Individualized teaching combined with assistive technology helps students learn daily living skills and achieve a measure of independence. At the same time, socialization and leisure education are emphasized to increase quality of life.
SPOTLIGHT ON QATAR
Qatar is located along the Arabian Peninsula. After centuries of being ruled by others, it became an independent state in 1971. Under the current Emir, Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, who has ruled since 1995, Qatar has been credited with considerable sociopolitical liberalization, including the empowerment of women, a new constitution, and the launch of a free press. Qatar ranks as one of the richest countries in the world, with an economy buoyed by its oil and natural gas resources. In 2006, Qatar hosted the Asia Games.
Also, Qatar is known for it education centers, including the Shafallah Center for Children with Special Needs, as well as Education City, a 2,500-acre campus that hosts branches of world-leading universities such as Georgetown University, Weill Medical College of Cornell, Virginia Commonwealth, Texas A&M and Carnegie Mellon University.