More than determined: Improving opportunities and empowering abilities

POD Event

The Middle East Centre was privileged to support a unique event in Dubai - improving opportunities and empowering abilities - organised by Massiraa (an agency dedicated to promoting universal accessibility) and with the active participation of a number of eminent international experts in the field of equity, diversity and inclusion, and with a special focus on People of Determination. The expert speakers considered the impact of technology and collaboration on inclusivity, and strategies for increasing awareness of People of Determination. Special guest speakers included a Guinness World Record holder and an Emirati social media superstar, who both shared their very personal experiences. Nawal Benzaouia, Founder and CEO of MASSIRAA, welcomed the attendees and opened the event.

Rania Itani, Marketing & Business Development Manager at the Middle East Centre, delivered the opening address and Professor Ismail Erturk – Head of Management and Organisation Studies at Alliance Manchester Business School – joined one of two panel discussions during the event. Other keynotes were delivered by Fatma Samoura – Secretary-General of FIFA, and Saif Bin Darwish- Chairman Dubai City Non-Emergency Transportation.

Shared commitment to EDI – The University of Manchester

In her opening comments, Rania Itani congratulated the organisers and supporters for the initiative and the opportunity to share the University’s substantial commitment to and experience of supporting disabled people – staff, students (and the faculty and parents supporting disabled students) alumni and partners.

“We share MASSIRAA’s commitment to promoting accessibility and inclusion, which is close to the University’s heart and expressed through our values – Wisdom, Knowledge and Humanity. And our commitment to social responsibility, which is one of the three key main pillars of our mission, alongside teaching / learning and research.

“Our mission here in the Middle East is that of the university. So, in addition to our academic programme, we are very active in the region in social responsibility supporting important community work from sustainability to support for access to education especially for children as well as for People of Determination.

“The University of Manchester is strongly committed to Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) and has a wide range of means through which we support this strategic priority. This is because people – our staff, alumni, partners, academics – are at the heart of everything we do. Our aim is to create an outstandingly inclusive place to work and study, characterised by equality and diversity is key to our success.

“The UAE, as a regional and global hub for business, sets a fine example when it comes to its commitment to People of Determination and it’s taking the lead in the provision of support and access to opportunities for the community. The University shares this commitment, and our vision is to be recognised by staff, students, alumni and our partners to be an inclusive organisation through a supportive environment with effective leaders everyone can reach their full potential.”

The University’s three EDI priorities over the next three years include an inclusive environment and culture, diversity and equity across the University, and inclusive practice through opportunities, training and recognition.

She explained that the University’s value of ‘Humanity’ means – “we embrace and celebrate difference, respect and support each other, and act with integrity to benefit society and the environment by transforming and enriching lives. This runs through everything we do.”

Rania ended on a high note with the latest breaking news from campus: “Just last week the University was awarded Disability Confident Leader status by the Business Disability Forum, which is a leading business membership organisation in disability inclusion…. ‘Leader’ is the highest level attainable out of three and we are very proud of it but this is just one stepping-stone in our journey to continuously improve EDI within our communities.

“Finally, in our work in social responsibility and EDI, there is one thing that is apparent and it is that people and wellbeing matter; every individual matters; and if any of us need help and support in facing the challenges that life presents us with, in the workplace and beyond, it is all our responsibility to make sure that in our workplace, community or place of study, we have systems in place that take care of people and offers an equal opportunity to succeed and thrive.”

Increasing awareness – essential to success

Professor Ismail Erturk joined the panel discussion on strategies for increasing awareness of People of Determination within different sectors - exploring ways to unleash the entrepreneurial spirit for agile and disruptive ventures in the contemporary business environment, with a specific focus on empowering People of Determination. The panel moderator was Dr. Hanan Selim - Founder of Tackle and Talk and Mentor in Women United Nation. The panel also comprised Dr. Zineb Rachedi - Director of study Inséi Paris; Aysha Shamas - Special Needs Consultant & Business Partner, Jenile International; and Khawla Barley - Head of Initiatives at Special Olympics.

Professor Erturk explained his role and experience, and the University’s strategy relating to people with disability. “As head of management and organisation studies at AMBS and former director for social responsibility at the business school, my teaching and research interest is around socially responsible business and my teaching includes EDI, which is an important part of this. In the business world there’s a new movement called ESG – Environment, Social, Governance – and ‘Social’ means social responsibility for the workforce and communities.

“The University is a large, higher education institution with 12,000 staff including 7,000 academics. It is a big employer and must comply with laws and regulations including equality law, so people with disability have equal rights. We also have 40,000 students and around 11.5% of our undergraduates have a disability of some sort. We make sure that they have equal participation in teaching and learning.”

Ismail explained that the University goes beyond compliance and its vision and strategy - called Our Future – covers people and values. “This is part of our DNA at the University and we set up an EDI Directorate in 2021 with a disability element within it. We have a VP for Social Responsibility and a robust governance mechanism, setting strategy, implementation and monitoring. We also have EDI committees at faculty and school level, which work with senior leadership teams.

Commenting on his work as an academic in business education and the classroom support available for students with disability, Professor Erturk said:The University takes disability very seriously as part of its strategy – including in the classroom. We have disability advisors as part of the Disability Advisory and Support Service and both staff and students have access to these services. So, someone applying for a job at the University can speak to DASS about their disabilities and the interview panel will also be aware of this. For staff, we have a Disabled Staff Network for support and also to provide feedback to management on their experiences and how to improve them.

“In the classroom, every academic at the University including myself writes the course syllabus and we need to include a statement on how the course supports the University’s EDI strategy. We have a lot of lecturers and big classes, so we divide students into groups of 10-15 with a supervisor and they meet regularly. Academics are trained to identify and talk about disability with students and see if they need help. Students and parents also have access to DASS. Practical support may include extra time for a task or exam, or a separate reading list.

“It’s important to send a clear message to academics about EDI and we have learned that just having a statement on the website is not enough. We have made achievements and the Disability Confident Leader status news reflects the commitment of the University’s leadership to sending this message and adopting and supporting the EDI strategy, providing support to academics, students and other staff with expertise and resources.”

How to be beyond ‘Determined

Keynote speaker Mr. Sujith Varghese, Guinness World Record Holder 2023 and 3x TEDx speaker, made an impactful presentation by sharing his inspiring personal story as a ‘person of determination’ overcoming his mobility disabilities and the many adversities he faced following a motorbike accident when he was 20 years old and which left him wheelchair bound. He spoke passionately about the critical importance of self-belief and opportunity in changing people’s lives. Sujith is a Kerala-based artist who recently set a Guinness World record by creating the largest individual GPS drawing. Sujith passed through Burj Khalifa and Dubai Mall in his wheelchair covering a distance of 8.71 km in 24 hours and creating the GPS image of a disabled man sitting in a wheelchair.

Words matter when it comes to People of Determination

Khalid Al Ameri, an Emirati video creator and social media sensation with 19 million followers, was a guest speaker at the event and captivated the audience with his heart-on-sleeve story as a father of a child of determination and how it changed his perspective of fatherhood, life and the meaning of ambition. He uses his influence to make Dubai a better place and more accessible for People of Determination so it’s an issue close to his heart – he believes that with the right training, better accessibility can be easy to achieve and at little or no cost. His son was diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum and he shared his learnings - information and support is critical; words matter and the UAE’s announcement regarding ‘People of Determination’ reflects the country’s care, helping people become stronger and for others to think of People of Determination as not less but different; as a parent, his son’s condition forced me him “…in the hardest and most beautiful way to look at the world differently, through his eyes and see the unique skills and contribution he can make to society.”

About the event

The event Master of Ceremony was Sarah Abuagela, Head of Investment Ceras, and a University alumna. Sarah also moderated the panel discussion on ‘Shaping an Inclusive Future Through Technology and Collaboration’. The panellists were - Mohamed Al Mutawwa, Board Member of Advisory Council for People of Determination and Accessibility, Urban Planning Specialist, Road and Transport Authority; Dr. Frédèric Reichhart- Professor at Insei and Representative of UNESCO Chair; Ramin Gilani, Chairman Gilani Mobility Solutions. American Sign Language Interpretation was provided for the audience.

Our strategy

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) is a priority for all at The University of Manchester. We recognise that diversity is key to our own success and are committed to driving change at all levels.

Our Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) strategy sets out our aims for the next three years and is shaped by ideas shared by colleagues, students, alumni, partners, and members of the wider Manchester city region. It takes a holistic approach that celebrates individuals and their many identities, extending beyond our statutory obligations, so that we become a truly inclusive organisation where EDI is embedded in all that we do and who we are. Our community helped shape this strategy and the three key priorities: Inclusive environment and culture, Diversity and equity across our community, Inclusive practice.

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion strategy


26 January 2024

University awarded Disability Confident Leader status

The University of Manchester has been awarded Disability Confident Leader status following a Disability Confident submission and its validation by the Business Disability Forum.  The University is one of only three in the Russell Group and 13 UK universities to be awarded this status. 

The Disability Confident scheme, accredited by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), helps employers recruit, retain and train great people. Disability Confident organisations play a leading role in changing attitudes about, and increasing understanding of, disability. There are three levels of the scheme with Leader being the highest.  

The University's Disability Confident Leader submission focused on the people we employ including staff, PGRs, apprentices, and those undertaking work experience and work placements. It also highlighted how data is reported and includes an ongoing commitment to annually report the Disability Pay Gap. 

The successful Disability Confident Leader application was based on evidence generated through conversations with colleagues in the Disabled Staff Network and across the University about their lived experiences and professional practice.  The reporting captured both positive and negative experiences and reflected these honestly in the submission.  

The application focuses on all three pillars of the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion strategy:  

  • Inclusive Environments and Cultures; 
  • Diversity and Equity in our community; 
  • Inclusive Practice. 

The University was able to demonstrate how it strives to be disability-inclusive and endeavour to ensure that disabled colleagues feel they belong, and that the University is a great place to work, whilst recognising that there is work to be done in achieving this. 

It is only the beginning of the University's leadership journey comments provided by the Business Disability Forum will be used to co-create a robust action plan.   

Actions will be assigned to individuals to track progress and ensure accountability. Everyone has a role to play in eliminating discrimination and advancing disability equality. 

Business Disability Forum works with business, Government, and disabled people to remove barriers to inclusion and its 550+ members employ over 20% of the UK workforce, and an estimated 8m people worldwide. The scheme, helps employers recruit, retain and train great people and plays a leading role in changing attitudes about, and increasing understanding of, disability. ‘

Every course unit includes a “STATEMENT TO SUPPORT EQUALITY, DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION” in the syllabus.  Beyond the academic content and teaching, we are also committed to supporting students who may have a disability that could impair learning speed or activities such as exams, where more time may need to be allowed. Like all staff, Academics need to be trained to develop awareness of and empathy for anyone who presents these needs. The other side of this is that privacy and confidentiality is also a responsibility of the University – it is up to the student to share this information and feel comfortable and confident in doing so but there is no obligation. Of course, sharing this information means that we can plan accordingly to support the student in an appropriate way.