There are about 12 million disabled persons living in Turkey. While these handicapped individuals are struggling with their psychical or mental obstacles, they also have to cope with discriminative or degrading attitudes from members of the public.
Positive Handicapped Education Association (POED) Chairman İsmail Çavdar, who spoke to Sunday’s Zaman, shared some figures regarding a study titled “Positioning the Disabled, Perception and Discrimination,” which was recently conducted by the Association for Preventing and Fighting Against Disability Discrimination with both disabled and able-bodied people. Çavdar said 17.1 of the disabled people questioned said they had been refused entry into a cafe or cinema at least once in their lives, 8.1 percent had had difficulties renting a flat or a shop, 23.9 percent said that when trying to hail a bus or a taxi, the drivers had ignored them, 4.7 percent said that teachers did not want their disabled children in class, 13.8 said that a school administration did not accept their disabled children, 9.8 percent said that their children had been subjected to bullying at school because they were disabled. Furthermore, 8.1 percept said they had been abandoned by their spouses and 5.7 percent said they had been exposed to psychological pressure.
Stating that there is a negative perception in the public regarding disabled people, Çavdar went on to say that 58.6 percent of able-bodied respondents said that they would be worried if their children had a disabled teacher and 59.3 percent of them were not comfortable with the idea of marrying a disabled person. A further 46.7 percent saw disabled people as weak and needing the help of others, 13.6 percent of them thought disabled persons could not have children, 43.7 percent said they did not want to live next door to a disabled person, 56 percent did not want to work with a disabled person in the same workplace and lastly, 12.7 percent believed disabled people to be aggressive.
Considering all the figures, Çavdar commented that disabled people are neglected in society and added that although a piece of legislation, the Law on People with Disabilities, was issued in 2005 to help disabled manage their daily lives, the infrastructure for the disabled in Turkish cities is still practically nonexistent. “Almost 80 percent of public buses and buildings have not been modified by the government for easier access of disabled people, primarily people with restricted mobility. The doors in public buildings are impracticable for mobility devices to access, so we come to the conclusion that disabled people are restricted to staying indoors as though they were prisoners and the disabled people’s family members looking after them are forced to serve as though they were ‘volunteer prison guards’ in Turkey,” Çavdar noted.
A 2010 amendment to Article 10 of the Law on People with Disabilities added a single but critical sentence to the legislation, “Precautions taken to protect special groups such as children, the elderly and the disabled cannot violate the principle of equality.” Referring to this amendment, Aid and Solidarity Association for All Disabilities and Their Families (TEDAY) President İlimdar Boztaş told Sunday’s Zaman that positive discrimination in favor of persons with disabilities was also addressed by this amendment. Backing the amendment, Boztaş said every kind of discriminating behaviors against the disabled should be avoided by the public. Boztaş further noted: “Some people are trying to help disabled people while they are carrying out their daily activities. Although these people are well-intentioned, their acts can offend disabled people and hurt their sense of self-confidence or self-perception.”
Sharing an example of positive discrimination he was subjected as a visually handicapped person, Boztaş said: “While I was trying to get off a minibus, two helpful people tried to move me out of the vehicle by holding my shoulders instead of just showing me the way. When they did this, I said ‘I want to do it myself please.’ Although I knew that their actions were well-intentioned, they upset me.”
Disabled People Foundation Deputy Chairwoman Banu Bayburt Adıyaman told Sunday’s Zaman that disabled people living in Turkey face various problems in their social lives, health and education fields and with the issue of accessibility.
Stating that physical accessibility measures are generally put in place for people with restricted mobility, Adıyaman stated that vision- and hearing-impaired people are generally neglected while modifying the physical environment for the disabled.
About the discrimination the disabled face in the workplace, Adıyaman stated that employers generally tend to employ the disabled in lower-ranking jobs because they don’t trust that the disabled are qualified employees. Adıyaman further stated that the colleagues of the disabled generally have the tendency to behave towards the disabled more caringly and mercifully, but they should treat the disabled the same way that they treat able-bodied colleagues.
“The problem of discrimination against the disabled can not be resolved until we change the popular perception of the disabled as people in need of protection and compassion, as well as the perception that they are not contributing members of society,” Adıyaman noted.