Things to know when traveling around in Dubai:
1. Their metro system is the most accessible train system I’ve ever seen. It is clean, it is wheelchair accessible, and the bathrooms inside the stations are functional, immaculate, and wheelchair accessible as well. Unlike a lot of the elevators in D.C. and NYC, the elevators are not hidden at the end of a platform or in an obscure corner. They are often located right in the middle of the platform. Due their high visibility, this also means more able-bodied people use them and these able-bodied people were not very yielding when they saw a person in a wheelchair needing to use them.
2. The buses are also wheelchair accessible. Although, I didn’t use them as often because the trains are faster and most of the touristy places I needed to go had metro stops.
3. I heard from a local wheelchair user who I met inside the trains that individuals with disabilities who have a UAE ID card can ride the metro and buses for free. And they can ride the taxis for half-price. He said this service is not granted to tourist with disabilities, though.
4. Despite the accessibility of its transportation system, there are a lot of stores and restaurants that have a step or several steps leading into them, especially in the older side of Dubai.
5. Dubai is a city of amazing wealth just by looking at its various infrastructure and tourist sights. Unlike in Cairo and areas of Lebanon I traveled to, I don’t think I saw a single street person while I was wheeling around Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
6. The gender roles and stereotypes are very much emphasized and held tightly in the Middle East, but I actually met a female manager inside the Louvre in Abu Dhabi. She was very sweet and diplomatic. I normally wouldn’t make a note of these things, but I interacted with so few women in public on an one-on-one basis when I was in the Middle East that it is worth noting. All my taxi drivers were men. All the people I interacted with when going through security at the airport were men. The women patted me down, but they had no decision-making power whenever something unclear came up and a judgement call needed to be made. Men were in public places smoking and airing their political thoughts. With the exception of the UAE, women were either hidden in niqabs and hijabs and/or were quietly following alongside their husbands. Perhaps it was due to its diversity, but the gender roles and patriarchal culture was not as prominent in Dubai.
7. They call people with disabilities “people if determination” in UAE. I find this amusing and slightly empowering. I’ve never been a fan of the word “disabled”. Just because I am different doesn’t mean I am a “dis” or not abled.
8. The population is very diverse, with many people coming from Southeast Asia and Africa, and most are quite fluent in English.
For a piece land that use to be nothing at all, Dubai has become an architect’s paradise with its stunning skyline. If you like amazing skyscrapers and high-end shopping then Dubai is the city for you!