Middle East Jul 16, 2012
ISTANBUL: Although there have been some efforts to provide full access to public facilities for persons with disabilities of Turkey, this goal has not been comprehensively achieved, leaving many persons with disabilities to face ongoing difficulties.
Accessibility for persons with disabilities has always been a hot issue in Turkey. In 2005, in a major effort to address the accessibility problems faced by persons with disabilities in cities, Law 5378 was passed, a regulation imposing obligations on municipalities to address deficiencies in the provision of access for persons with disabilities. The law also aims to further integrate into society the 9 million people currently persons with disabilities in Turkey, and resolve problems related to health, education, employment and socialization. The law was intended to come into effect after a period of seven years, during which Turkey’s municipalities were expected to achieve full compliance with the regulations. The deadline came and went on July 7, 2012, but the municipalities failed to comply with the requirements.
The deadline was consequently postponed by a further three years, drawing harsh criticism from nongovernmental organizations interested in disability rights. In order to gain firsthand insight into the difficulties experienced by persons with disabilities in daily life, Sunday’s Zaman traveled with Nezahat Nazlı (40), a partially paralyzed person working for the Turkish Association of the Handicapped (TSD), on Tuesday. Nazlı uses a battery-operated wheelchair. The first problem was encountered almost immediately, because the pavements prove inaccessible to wheelchairs. Nazlı had to ride her wheelchair on the road instead of the pavement, risking her life. Most pavements were without access ramps, and those with ramps were either not smooth enough or blocked by lampposts or trees. Some of the pavements were also occupied by parked cars.
Another problem she faced was in relation to public transport. Access ramps for wheelchairs are included in the design of recently manufactured buses, but the majority of public buses have no ramps. Nazlı had to wait at the bus station for a bus fitted with a ramp. The ramps on all public buses are manually operated, so the drivers have to exit the driver’s cab and pull out the hand-operated ramp for passengers with disabilities. However, the driver of the bus Nazlı used didn’t help her at all. One of the passengers on the bus pulled out the ramp and assisted her to board. She received similar treatment when disembarking.
The subways are superior to other modes of public transportation in terms of disability access. They provide accessible lifts, ramps and special wheelchair entries at most stations. Nazlı traveled on the subway without much difficulty. However, the same cannot be said for the metrobus. Nazlı said she has not even attempted to use the metrobus as she has heard that it does not facilitate access for persons with disabilities, particularly for those using wheelchairs. Accessible lifts and ramps are available at some metrobus stations, but by no means all. Furthermore, the existing ramps in metrobus stations are so long that they are not practical for disabled use.
Following these experiences, Nazlı told Sunday’s Zaman that she sometimes doesn’t even dare to go outside, knowing she will experience many problems reaching her desired destination.
She then shared a recent experience on the tram. At the Eminönü station, Nazlı was faced with the absence of ramp, path and elevator. “Four charitable people passing by helped me cross the road by physically carrying me to the other side,” Nazlı recounted.
Describing another experience on public transport, Nazlı explained: “I was traveling to the CNR Expo Center by subway. While I was getting off the metro at the station, one of the wheels of my chair was stuck in a gap between the metro and the station platform. The metro began to move. One of the passengers inside the metro pushed me to save my life, but his hands unfortunately stayed between the doors of the metro.”
Complaining about public bus drivers, Nazlı said that bus drivers’ attitudes towards persons with disabilities are poor. “The bus drivers pretend not to see persons with disabilities waiting at the bus stations. Some of them stop only when there are some people without disabilities standing at the bus stations. They underestimate us, as we can use public transport without paying. The bus drivers should be educated in this regard, and should be more sensitive toward disabled persons,” Nazlı said.
Mustafa Kırımlı (40), retired from the İstanbul Transportation Authority (İETT) General Directorate, said that accessible lifts are available in a limited number of metro and metrobus stations. However, “accessible lifts are generally used by persons without disabilities, who force persons with disabilities to wait for a while in front of those elevators to get in. Persons without disabilities should be more sensitive about this issue. They should not occupy the spaces or facilities that are allocated for the use of persons with disabilities.”
The head of the İstanbul branch of the TSD, Murat Kemal Yüksel, told Sunday’s Zaman that although all public and apartment buildings should have been built accessible for persons with disabilities after the passing of the 2005 law, not every building allows full access for persons with disabilities in Turkey.
Yüksel further stated that most multi-storey buildings don’t have either lifts or access ramps at the entrance, rendering them inaccessible for wheelchair users.
“As full citizens, people with disabilities have to be granted full access to all aspects of society on an equal basis with others, including buildings, facilities and services provided to the public. They are also entitled to education, healthcare and employment, and accessibility is key for them to realize their rights,” Yüksel stated.
“We [the TSD] promote the active inclusion and full participation of persons with disabilities in society,” Yüksel continued, adding that if disabled persons are unable to participate in activities outside their homes, they will go unnoticed, and neither the government nor the local administrations will try to improve accessibility for them.
Regarding the accessibility of public services for people with vision disabilities, Turkish Association of the Blind President Ahmet Cantürk told that among the problems people with vision disabilities experience are unreadable packaging or instructions connected with items such as medication or information booklets, and unsuitable public transport in terms of easy access for handicapped persons.
Cantürk added that although there have been some efforts by the state to provide accessibility for people with vision disabilities in recent years, these efforts are not satisfactory. “There is a large amount of money allocated for projects addressing the accessibility problems of people with vision disabilities. This money is being spent unnecessarily; the money is not spent on the primary needs of the blind,” he said.
Cantürk also said that the state should cooperate with nongovernmental organizations representing people with vision disabilities to achieve full accessibility.