Is there no space for the disabled?

Image of disabled people playing on a beachLet me start by answering the question above. There is of course enough space for the disabled, for everyone actually. All that is needed looking around more carefully: the disabled are an ‘invisible’ sub-culture. They are ‘invisible’ because they are not wanted to be seen or remembered often. However, they do exist in every society and they are more than they are seen. The only thing that should be done is to release them from their ‘prisons’. The European Union deals with the issue in detail and encourages the candidate countries to comply with necessary laws and regulations. Nevertheless, all those rules do not seem to be enough. That is why, in Istanbul there are some projects running about the issue bases on volunteerism. In this paper, I will deal with the disabled in Istanbul. I do not want to write about the whole Turkey, because I wish to write using my own observations as I have lived in Istanbul for 5 years. Firstly, I will touch the problems that they have to face every day, then I will briefly mention how the European Union handles the issue, and I will conclude the article by examining the progress made on the issue.

‘I always think of how the life is hard for those people and the people around them. Being disabled makes you dependent on someone else to make your wishes. At that point you have to give up on something that you desire.’

I always feel upset when I see disabled people having trouble with the things that I am able to do. This makes me grateful that I am healthy. However, I am still very sensitive with disabled people because I am aware of the fact that I also can become one of them any time. I always think of how the life is hard for those people and the people around them. Being disabled makes you dependent on someone else to make your wishes. At that point you have to give up on something that you desire. I strongly believe that everyone in society must access their rights equally. Being disabled is not the result of a choice or fault. Disabled people are sometimes born in that way or sometimes their disability is caused by their working conditions or even ‘terrorist’ attacks.

I have always been interested in minorities & sub-cultures subject, but what made me write this article is the news that I had read. I read about a project (named Istanbul ‘a Çık) for disabled people in Istanbul two days ago in the Turkish newspaper named Radikal.[1] Istanbul’a Çık refers to two different meanings in Turkish. Firstly, this is a slogan inviting the disabled to go out and discover their environment and secondly, it refers to Istanbul Açık which means that Istanbul is open to the disabled. I felt very excited when I read it. Mainly, the project aims at making disabled people more visible in society. It is written that a group of people (both disabled and healthy) discover Istanbul together.[2] At first, healthy members of the group go to explore the region and then if it is fine for the disabled members, they all go there for a picnic or something. This activity has taken place since 2009. The most beneficial outcome of the project is that they report their observations and pass them on to Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality. The members are happy that their comments and demands are taken into consideration by the authorities. For instance, the Department of National Palaces at the Grand National Assembly of Turkey put an elevator in Dolmabahçe Palace (Istanbul) and they will put one also in Beylerbeyi Palace (Istanbul) soon. Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality seems to be interested in the issue, though I do not find it enough.

‘The disabled (at least 40% disabled who are registered in their ID) and the companion are free of charge for the public transportation in Istanbul. However, the problem is with the accessibility.’

In my opinion, there is no significant difference between deficiency and absence. Let me explain this with an example. The disabled (at least 40% disabled who are registered in their ID) and the companion are free of charge for the public transportation in Istanbul. However, the problem is with the accessibility.[3] Unfortunately, not all stations have an elevator, ramps, or sometimes the evelator button is put on a very high point for a person on a wheel chair. The municipality organizes meetings with disabled people once in three weeks. Through these meetings, the municipality plans to transform Istanbul into a city which is suitable also for the disabled. While being developed, Istanbul ‘closed’ itself to the disabled. This is why the city has potential problems for the disabled such as uncomfortable means of transport, traffic lights and roads…Well; actually not only for the disabled but also for cyclists and people with buggies Istanbul is not an ideal city. However, I am very optimistic with ongoing promising progress.

Now, let’s look on this issue in the context of the European Union. The EU aims at active inclusion and full participation of disabled people in society. The EU deals with the issue from the human rights perspective and supports full access to equal rights. To achieve its goals, the Commission adopted the European Disability Strategy 2010- 2020 based on the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and took into account the experience of the Disability Action Plan (2004- 2010). The European principle is: ‘Nothing about disabled people without disabled people’.[4] The Union pursues its objectives in eight priority areas: accessibility, participation, equality, employment, education and training, social protection, health and external action.[5] I am glad to say that the union has a strategy on the issue; however I hope all those policies make sense in practice as well.

The European Commission released Turkey 2011 Progress Report two days ago. The Commission deals with the issue of socially vulnerable persons and/or persons with disabilities paragraph in human rights and the protection of minorities section. The Commission assesses some progresses though it finds them insufficient. In the report, Turkey is praised because of the adoption of a strategy paper on accessibility and the related national action plan. On the other hand, the country is criticized for not turning constitutional changes into specific measures in favour of the disabled and still not having a national mechanism for monitoring implementation of the UN Convention on the rights of disabled persons. The Commission does not find the efforts sufficient to increase the employment of persons with disabilities. Besides, the Commission notes that physical barriers to access to public, social and health services still continue despite legislation in force. Overall, the EU encourages Turkey to work more on full participation and active inclusion of disabled people and notes that to achieve this further awareness- raising is needed.[6]

In conclusion, I would say that the main problem in Turkey is implementation of concerning laws and regulations. What Turkey should do is to build an effective executive and controlling body on the issue. Otherwise, all that legislation would not make sense. I hope awareness of the issue will rise soon. I assure you that the disabled are not far from us. They are with us and part of us. Keep in mind this is not just about them, but also about their families and the whole society. All members of society should embrace each other to reach peace in home and social cohesion. There is space for everyone…

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