According to a 2002 report published on the website of the Family and Social Policy Ministry, disabled citizens make up 12.29 percent of the population in Turkey.
In other words, there are 8.5 million disabled citizens across the country. The existence of such a large community comes to public attention ahead of every national election as political parties promise to improve their daily lives, mostly only resulting in the government’s failure to remember these pledges after being elected.
However some positive developments have finally taken place, according to civil society organizations that focus on problems faced by the disabled. One such major step is the launch of the long-awaited state personnel examination for the disabled (ÖMSS), slated for April 29, but this is still a flawed effort, at least for now, according to the activists.
The laws stipulate that 4 percent of the public workforce must be composed of disabled employees -- it was 3 percent before 2008. That requires nearly 40,000 disabled people to be employed in public institutions. Some 7,000 have already been placed in public jobs. Before the examination, more than 20,000 disabled citizens were to have filled positions allocated to them; however, Labor and Social Security Minister Faruk Çelik last week said in Parliament that only 3,512 disabled people will be employed after the ÖMSS. These remarks have been a major blow to the disabled community, discouraging many of them from getting ready for the examination, according to civil society organizations, which are still hopeful that the government could disprove the minister’s remarks and that thousands of positions can be raised as a possibility again.
All Disabled and their Families’ Solidarity Foundation (TEDAY) head İlimdar Boztaş explained to Sunday’s Zaman that the public positions for the disabled came to attention in 2004. “They first started with 80,000 positions for the disabled and it dropped constantly until a final official figure was put at 38,192. The Labor Ministry offices announced this. Last year, Family Minister Fatma Şahin said her first job is to immediately appoint the disabled to public institutions. Formerly, none of the deputies had talked about a figure for the employment of the disabled of less than 30,000,” he said.
Boztaş said after Çelik’s remarks, some 200 people have dropped out of the foundation’s free courses and that roughly 100 are left now. “There is incredible disappointment,” he added.
According to Boztaş, a recent protest by several civil society organizations against a government initiative to distribute a device for the visually impaired caused the reaction by Çelik. When these organizations found the devices insufficiently developed, they staged a demonstration.
He believes this problem will be solved since Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is aware of the laws regarding the hiring of the disabled in public institutions. “If this issue keeps on attracting attention, the problem will be resolved,” Boztaş says.
Şükrü Boyraz, head of the Turkish Association of the Handicapped (TSD), told Sunday’s Zaman that officials from the Family and Social Policy Ministry said in response to his inquiry that the open positions are numbered at roughly 3,500, while the rest of the aforementioned 38,000-plus positions will be filled later. “I want to believe that this will happen. According to them, some 3,500 people will be appointed right after the examination,” he said.
He underscored that the government should be given credit for its efforts. The Family and Social Policy Ministry, for instance, has sent letters to all governor’s offices across the nation to warn them that they have to make it clear before April 22 who will accompany disabled citizens to and from their houses to the examination venues. “It shows that the government is sincere and serious. I have been the president of the TSD for 25 years and never seen a government that determined,” Boyraz said.
What is next?
Activists dealing with the troubles that the disabled face cite the problem of accessibility as the major one. Despite its millions of disabled citizens, Turkey is a hard place to socialize and mingle with the outside world for people with disabilities. Only recently have the official bodies begun efforts to create disabled-friendly spheres.
In 2005 a major step was taken by the government, obliging public institutions to become disabled-friendly within seven years. The deadline is July 7. Civil society representatives say there are still many institutions that are far from meeting this requirement.
“After July 7, once a disabled person presses charges against a public institution for not complying with the law, that institution faces paying a large fine. Their duties are clearly stated in the law,” Boyraz said.
Boztaş agrees, saying public institutions are responsible for making their facilities disabled-friendly as otherwise they will be penalized. He confirmed that many such institutions have not yet made necessary changes in accordance with the law; however, he does not see a problem with this since it will be these institutions that pay the price eventually should they fail.