Turkey's largest special needs school opened in Istanbul's Küçükçekmece district yesterday. Founded by the Limak Foundation, Gülseren Özdemir Special Education School has a capacity of 300 students.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan inaugurated the school at a ceremony attended by dignitaries and Nihat Özdemir, prominent businessman and husband of late Gülseren Özdemir, who the school is named after. In a speech at the ceremony, Erdoğan hailed the progress of special education and rights of the disabled in the past decade.
The school, which has a capacity of 300 students, is dubbed as biggest in Turkey.
The school campus, comprised of a primary, middle and high school, is built on 5,000 square meters and will cater to children with mental disabilities as well as students with other disabilities in 27 classrooms. The school will also serve as a training center for special education teachers. Apart from classrooms, it houses open-air classrooms in its courtyard.Speaking at the opening ceremony, President Erdoğan said Turkey saw "revolutionary steps taken" in the past 16 years for the integration of disabled citizens to social life.
"Today, 513,000 disabled individuals are provided with care at home and 97 rehabilitation centers across the country serve 7,000 disabled people," he said. Touching upon problems disabled children faced in the past, President Erdoğan said these children used to hide in their houses "like they had some kind of shame they were forced to hide. Today, disabled people are integrated back into society with the steps taken in the past 16 years," he said, in reference to the first election of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party). Erdoğan said the state was paying monthly allowances up to TL 650 ($120) to the families of disabled citizens.
The president said they also attached the importance of employment of the disabled both in the public and private sector. "More than 54,000 were employed in the public sector as civil servants so far and about 112,000 were employed as workers in the public and private sector. We also support companies for benefits paid to the disabled employees," he said. Erdoğan noted that on special education, the government decreased the limit on the severity of a disability that a citizen has to be eligible for special education.
President Erdoğan said the government also drafted an autism action plan for 1 million autistic individuals in Turkey and the relevant ministries and public agencies were implementing steps in the plan.
Turkey's disabled community, which comprises about 7 percent of the population, has long been challenged by problems of social inclusion, accessibility and employment. The country has adopted a set of regulations in recent years to improve the lives of the disabled, especially in terms of employment. The government has offered incentives for work places employing disabled citizens since 2014. Businesses creating jobs for the disabled are eligible for free loans and tax incentives as well as partial payment for each disabled employee they hire. The disabled are also provided free passes on public transit. Through a state-run employment agency, Turkey also provides free loans for disabled entrepreneurs and projects involving mass employment of the disabled.