Turkish streets remain inaccessible to disabled

Turkish streets remain inaccessible to disabled

Two people in wheelchairs using an ATM. Activists say most places in Turkey remain inaccessible to the disabled. (PHOTO SUNDAY’S ZAMAN)

June 24, 2012, Sunday/ 13:13:00

July 7 is the last day of a seven-year timeframe provided in law for Turkey’s public domains to be made disabled-friendly; however, not much has changed to make it easy for people with disabilities to live in this country.

At most, a 10 percent compliance with the law has been achieved across the nation over these seven years, according to representatives of civil society organizations for the disabled, and there are many problems yet to be dealt with. Law 5378, passed in 2005, aims to integrate the disabled into society and seeks to bring resolution to the problems faced by people with disabilities, including those related to health, education, employment and socialization. When first launched, the law envisaged 2012 would be the last year of suffering for the disabled and gave seven years for all public areas to be made compliant.

“The law was supposed to make all public spheres, from courthouses to metrobuses, from malls to police stations, accessible for the disabled. I am talking in the past tense because two weeks remain and only maybe 10 percent of the work is finished,” Spinal Cord Paralytics Society of Turkey (TOFD) President Ramazan Baş told Sunday’s Zaman in an e-mail interview.

Baş emphasized that there have been improvements since the law came into effect in 2005, but they are far from meeting needs. Thanking municipalities that have ensured the disabled-friendly transformation of public spheres, he said there is hope for the future, yet Turkey is still at the bottom of the ladder in terms of becoming an easy place to live for people with disabilities. According to Baş, the situation of hospitals is among the worst: Health monitoring centers are allowed to be built on second or third floors of buildings, and many of them still pass official inspections despite lacking elevators or ramps.

As only two weeks are left before the deadline, Turkish Association of the Handicapped (TSD) Secretary-General Ali Güler told Sunday’s Zaman that an uncertainty lingers in the air about what to expect after July 7. “Everybody expects a miracle on July 7, but there is no such thing. There is no state pressure or sanction or any developments either,” he said.

Lashing out at those who seek additional time to make necessary changes in accordance with the law, Güler argued that such a move would mean seclusion of the disabled from society. “There are already hundreds of thousands of people with disabilities who cannot leave their houses. Even the seven-year notice was more than enough. Local governments should’ve constantly inspected all public areas and they should’ve provided consultancy to those who are responsible for making public areas accessible for the disabled,” he said. Güler agreed with Baş of the TOFD, saying a 10 percent amelioration for the disabled in public spaces is the most positive prediction regarding the improvements since 2005.

There are things yet to be done in the absence of expected improvements in the past seven years, activists believe. According to Güler, the next step should be to seek a more essential and deep-rooted solution and address the education system, to raise awareness starting from a young age and teach university students who will later be engaged in construction businesses how to make disabled-friendly buildings.

Baş says it would be a more positive gesture to exert effort for the well-being of the disabled if the necessary steps were taken without legal pressure but those responsible were still “obliged to move at a fast pace and get coordinated efficiently.”

According to Baş, since the law has clearly failed to have the desired effect, the next step to be taken should be official supervision of public areas and vehicles to ensure their compliance with the law after July 7. He says commencing with buildings under construction and moving to established ones, those serving or to serve as public areas must be fixed in such a way so as to ensure accessibility by the disabled.

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