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 world’s 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. ABILITY’s Chet Cooper spoke to social responsibility manager of ADNOC by phone in Abu Dhabi.
Shereen Alnowais: So how are you?
Chet Cooper: I’m good. It’s late there.
Shereen Alnowais: No, it’s not too late. It’s 10 o’clock on the weekend.
Cooper: So it’s dinnertime.
Shereen Al Nowais: 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 it’s too noisy.
Cooper: I thought I heard noise in the background. I smelled some food as well.
Shereen Al Nowais: (laughs) Is it clear for you, to hear me? Should I go somewhere else?
Cooper: Can you go down two blocks and make a left—no, you’re good.
Shereen Al Nowais: (laughs) Okay, I like that. Are we okay to talk now?
Cooper: Yes. We’ll start with, when you were three years old—
Shereen Al Nowais: What? When I was three years old? Oh, my! (laughs)
Cooper: Too far back?
Shereen Al Nowais: (laughs) No, no! Don’t go too far! This is very—I cannot remember.
Cooper: I know you’re working in corporate social responsibility. Tell me about your background, how you got into what you’re doing.
Shereen Al Nowais: Yes. I have been working in corporate social responsibility (CSR) since 2009, we’ve 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 wasn’t named under that, we were helping and supporting the society inside the company and outside the company.
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?
Shereen Al Nowais: 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 it’s 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 issues?
Shereen Al Nowais: 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 we—actually me—go 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?
Shereen Al Nowais: 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 aren’t 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 well as—
Shereen Al Nowais: 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 you’re aware, the smartest person alive, Stephen Hawkings, doesn’t walk or talk and uses assistive technology to communicate. The focus should be on people’s ability, not their disability.
Shereen 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 don’t have that culture. There are centers, but we are very behind in hiring people or even the disability movement, we are a little bit—I don’t 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 don’t have a learning disability department or learning support. I’ve been through this in my country, unfortunately. That’s 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 he’s very smart. In my country, he can’t study in the right way because of the lack of accommodations. That’s why I have a passion in this area.
Cooper: ABILITIESme can bring awareness to different sectors, the government, corporations, and society in general.
Shereen Al Nowais: 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 disabilities—for everyone in the country. This is my proposal to them, to think about it and let’s do something together.