By Doha News Team
Though people with disabilities in Qatar have long struggled to access many venues across the country, the situation has been improving in recent years.
This week, more than a dozen local hotels, malls, parks and cultural locations received awards for meeting the needs of visitors with mobility issues.
These included the Museum of Islamic Art (MIA), Al Khor Park, the Mall of Qatar and a number of luxury hotels.
Trophies were handed out on Wednesday at the conclusion of the first Accessible Qatar conference.
Part of construction expo Project Qatar, the ceremony aimed to commend venues that made efforts to be more accessible.
A total of 13 sites in four different categories were honored.
Amid the many five-star hotels in Qatar, six were hailed for their accessibility.
- InterContinental Doha The City in Dafna/West Bay;
- Marriott Marquis next to City Center mall in Dafna/West Bay;
- Crowne Plaza in Najma;
- The Torch in Al Waab;
- Westin in Bin Mahmoud; and
- Al Rayyan Hotel Doha by Mall of Qatar
Additionally, the Movenpick Hotel West Bay was lauded for its efforts to meet the needs of guests and visitors who are sight-impaired.
Meanwhile, the malls that were deemed to be easiest to explore for mobility-impaired visitors included the Mall of Qatar in Al Rayyan, the Gate Mall in Dafna/West Bay and Gulf Mall in Al Gharafa.
And the Museum of Islamic Art won the award for the most accessible tourist attraction.
Congratulations @MIAQatar for winning the most accessible tourist attraction for mobility impairment by the Accessible Qatar Initiative. pic.twitter.com/UO9Hbgdmxs
— Al Mayassa Al Thani (@almayassahamad) May 9, 2017
Katara Cultural Village was also commended for its “dedication toward improving accessibility in general at its premises,” award organizers said in a statement.
And finally, Al Khor Park took the trophy for the country’s most accessible park and recreation venue for those with mobility impairment.
The Accessible Qatar conference included the involvement of government and private sector entities such as energy company Sasol and the Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA).
Last year, they launched a free app and website that assesses and rates venues across town according to their accessibility levels.
So far, around 100 different locations are included. In addition to the expert score, visitors are also encouraged to add their comments and rankings.
The app can be helpful not only for those in wheelchairs, but also for families with young children using strollers.
Each venue is given a color-coded overall rating, with green being most accessible and red least accessible.
There is also more detailed information about each site in terms of the type of accessibility it offers.
For example, MIA has an audited rating of 15/27.
It got green ticks for providing easy access, ramps and lighting at its approach and entrance, and for having accessible toilets.
However, its lack of visual contrast in materials and provision for those with hearing issues brought its score down.
There has been increasing awareness in recent years about the need to make Qatar’s venues more accessible to all visitors.
Last year, QTA rolled out a new system of grading and rating hotels, which directly links the star award to its level of accessibility.
Local laws make it illegal to discriminate against people with disabilities, but there are no practical guidelines on how to enforce this.
So while some buildings have now added ramps to improve access to their main entrance, these are often too steep for people in wheelchairs to use safely.
Meanwhile, though more sidewalks are being built in some parts of town, residents have reported ongoing challenges when trying to get around in a wheelchair or with a stroller.
Often, obstacles such as lamp posts are built into the middle of the path, rubbish is left blocking a route or sidewalks suddenly come to an abrupt end.
Many groups have been campaigning to improve these paths and for a better understanding of the practical needs of disabled people.
Meanwhile, other private ventures have launched to make it easier for those with a disability to get around Qatar.
For example, Ibticar, a dedicated limousine service for people using wheelchairs was launched by resident Anirban Lahiri two years ago.
What do you think are the most accessible sites in Qatar? Thoughts?