The Zayed University (ZU) office of accessibility for special needs students reached a milestone last week with the launch of the Khalaf Al Habtoor Assistive Technology Resource Centre.
The new Dh1 million technology centre at the Dubai campus will facilitate an easier learning experience for ZU's special needs students — primarily those with visual impairments. It offers students access to assistive technologies such as Braille typing tools and text magnifier machines, with membership open to members of the public at a nominal fee as well.
"The thing is, visually impaired students need assistive technology more than anyone else," said Fatima Al Qasimi, manager of the ZU office of accessibility, who herself is a wheelchair user. "If the environment is accessible for wheelchair users then students can get to classrooms via ramps and lifts, while our hearing-impaired students use their own hearing aids."
The centre was inaugurated by Shaikh Nahyan Bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research and president of Zayed University, on the ZU Dubai campus last week.
Fatima added there are currently 28 students with special needs enrolled at ZU. Most of them are hearing impaired. The new centre has the capacity to serve 25 users at any one time.
"We don't currently cater for deaf or mute students because we still don't have sign language teachers."
ZU is the last of the federal universities to receive an assistive technology centre for students with special needs. Fatima added the office of accessibility experienced a year-ong struggle to find a financial sponsor. That was until Khalaf Al Habtoor, founder of the Al Habtoor group of companies, donated Dh1 million to establish the centre.
"It is my hope and mission in life, within my capabilities, to continue to support education for students of all ages in the UAE," said Al Habtoor.
Al Habtoor also made a Dh10 million donation to the establishment of the Khalaf Al Habtoor Chair in Business Sciences recently.
"I'm proud that my grandfather has done something like this to help students here at ZU," said Noora Mohammad Khalaf Al Habtoor, who is in her first year at ZU.
"I have a girl in my class who is visually impaired and I'm really proud that it could have been anyone else to help the students, but instead it was my grandfather."
Founder of the Mawaheb for beautiful people art studio, Wemmy de Maaker says although assisting university students with special needs is remarkable; younger students at the elementary and schooling levels should also be given some attention.