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In line with its purpose of bringing people together and commitment to inclusion and breaking barriers, Etisalat along with the Ministry of Community Development announced the launch of special web extension for autistic user  to mark the World Autism Acceptance Day on April 2nd.

Etisalat collaborated with Brussels-based IT company Bliss to develop a web extension aimed at empowering autistic people and personalising their browsing experience. The inputs for the autistic-friendly designs were provided by the autistic people based in the UAE as well as the global evidence-based research findings on the condition.

On April 2nd, users can log on to the website and click ‘on’ to download and activate the ‘Etisalat Wider Web’ web extension. From April 3rd onwards, the web extension will remain on the Google extension page. Using the drop-down menu on Google, users can click on ‘More Tools’ and ‘Extension’. They can click on the ‘Etisalat Wider Web’ green icon, which has a description of the extension. Once activated, websites will display autistic-friendly settings such as neutral colours like dark grey or medium grey, simplified fonts, simplified menus, simplified layouts, fewer images, ad blockers, and carousel freezing to facilitate reduced sensory overload.

World Autism Acceptance Day aims to highlight the struggles that autistic people face every day and celebrates the unique way autistic people view the world. The World Health Organisation estimates current global prevalence to range between 1 in 100 and 1 in 132 people.

With Etisalat’s solution, autistic people worldwide can now access www.etisalat.ae and activate for free the ‘Etisalat Wider Web’ extension, which instantly transforms a standard web page into an autistic-friendly one.

Dr Ahmed bin Ali, Group Senior Vice President, Corporate Communications, Etisalat, and Wafa Hamad Bin Sulaiman, Director of People of Determination Welfare and Rehabilitation Department at the Ministry of Community Development presided over the launch event.

The virtual press conference comprised a panel of autism specialists, namely Dr. Sharifa Yateem, the first Emirati behaviour analyst certified by the Behaviour Analyst Certification Board and an autism expert; Amal Sabry, Founder and Managing Director at Emirates Autism Centre; and Dr. Rawhi Abdat, a researcher and psychologist at the Ministry of Community Development.

Commenting on the launch, Dr Ahmed bin Ali said, “Etisalat is honoured to launch the world’s first web extension dedicated to empowering autistic people because we believe the world is a better place when people come together, and is a testimony to our strong commitment to inclusion, accessibility and breaking barriers. This stems from our Corporate Social Responsibility strategy to support and empower People of Determination through a plethora of initiatives and services, and is aligned with our strategy of ‘Driving the Digital Future to Empower Societies.”

Meanwhile, Wafa Hamad Bin Sulaiman said, “We live in a world where communication, digital content and information technology is constantly expanding. Covid-19 has increased this need, where autistic people, like others, become dependent on screens due to distance learning, remote work and the desire for virtual communication with others.

“The launch of this interactive web extension reflects this need to help autistic people who are browsing websites and improving their experiences in the Internet. This is in line with the accessibility axis in the national policy to empower people of determination, which includes easy access to informative content just like other individuals. The Ministry of Community Development is committed to collaborate with all initiative as well as support and empower priority groups especially when it comes to people of determination in a way that guarantees a better quality of life for all members of society.”

Dr. Shereen Sharaan, a postdoctoral researcher in psychology who is affiliated with The University of Edinburgh and Emirates Autism Centre, said, “Autism affects how you perceive and interact with the world, and there are differences in how an autistic person’s brain receives, processes, manages, and translates information into behaviour.

“A common phenomenon that autistic people can experience is sensory overload, where the brain receives more information than it can handle. This can result in confusion, anxiety, meltdowns, and/or even physical pain in autistic people. Unfortunately, sensory overload can be an all-too-common experience for autistic people, especially when spending time online, which is something most people need to do on a daily basis for work, education, leisure, and communication.”

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