Disabled Turks prepare for civil servant employment exam

Published 21.04.2016 12:13
Updated 21.04.2016 12:21

"Employment means happiness for me," says 18-year-old Kübra Ais, a physically disabled girl studying furiously for an upcoming central exam for state employment.

Kübra spends her days and nights in Istanbul preparing for the test, which could lead to vital job opportunities for her and thousands of other Turks with disabilities.

Apart from her own efforts at home, Kübra joins a private course at the weekends organized by Istanbul's Bağcılar Municipality to be better prepared.

The municipality offers courses on six topics including mathematics, history and Turkish. "For me, the most difficult subject is mathematics," Kübra admits.

This Sunday, together with at least 60,000 others, she will sit the test, answering 60 questions on topics ranging from mathematics to geography.

The number of questions and time limit will depend on an applicant's level of disability.

The better score Kübra gets, the more chance she will have of a job since the state selects people based on their test scores.

For years, employment remained one of the major issues that challenged disabled people in Turkey.

The disabled constitute around six percent of the Turkish population (approximately 4.5 million people), according to Turkish Statistical Institute (TurkStat) data from July 2015.

Family and Social Policies Ministry research in 2005 showed that more than 75 percent of disabled people were unable to participate in the workforce.

Yet 50 percent of disabled people want to work in suitable positions, according to TurkStat's 2010 research.

Lokman Ayva, a former Justice and Development (AK) Party deputy and now chair of the Istanbul-based White Moon Association, listed three main reasons why disabled people cannot find work: access, bias and "learned helplessness".

"There is a notion that disabled people cannot be employed but are only helped," he told Anadolu Agency. "Some even consider it a pity that disabled people are put to work."

In recent years, the unemployment ratio among disabled people has decreased thanks to the government efforts.

In 2011, TurkStat showed that the unemployment rate among disabled people stood at 8.8 percent. This was after the government introduced a work quota scheme in 2005 for private companies and public institutions, obliging them to employ a certain number of disabled people.

Companies that employ more than 50 people are expected to hire at least two disabled workers or face fines.

The state has also introduced various incentives, such as tax cuts, for those private companies that employ disabled people.

In 2012, the private sector hired at least 35,000 disabled people. In the first eight months of 2015, it employed at least 14,000 disabled people, according to Turkey's Family Minister Sema Ramazanoğlu.

Turkey introduced a central exam in 2011 to facilitate the hiring of disabled people.

Former lawmaker Ayva said the exam was set up to "fasten and ease employment of disabled people". The test was also designed to ask questions of less-abled people in line with their disability.

"Visually impaired people are not asked questions based on images, for example," he said.

The first exam took place a year later and resulted in more than 5,000 people being employed in public positions.

Ramazanoğlu said in January the number of disabled people employed in the public sector in 2015 has surpassed 40,000, up from around 27,000 in 2012. In 2016, the government plans to place another 40,000 disabled people in positions.

Aiming to be among those newly employed people, Kubra is eyeing a job in public relations.

Like Kübra, Ebru Topal, a 20-year-old visually-impaired woman, wants to work in a similar position.

Ebru took the central exam twice but failed to find work in the competitive field of PR. "So many disabled people applied in Istanbul," she said. "That's why I could not be employed."

She now has more resources that will prepare her better for the central exam, believing that her chance to become a state worker will increase accordingly.

Lokman Çağrıcı, the mayor of Bağcılar, told Anadolu Agency that private courses have provided a great opportunity for disabled people and their relatives.

"Two hundred handicapped people have participated in these courses," Çağrıcı said, adding that the municipality has launched a career center with the aim of bringing companies and disabled people together.

Ayva says disabled people should have a career plan for their futures.

"They need to start to determine their plans when they become 16-years-old," Ayva said, before setting the bar even higher by suggesting this could start at the age of 11 or 12 in the future.

He also claimed that disabled people should take the same exam with able-bodied people to dilute the perceived differences between the disabled and other citizens.

"Questions can be transformed in line with a person's disability," he said. "But all candidates should take the test on the same day."

However, disabled people's chances of getting a proper education in Turkey remain questionable.

Ebru said that she had gone through difficult moments, particularly in last years of high school.

Her experience is typical for many disabled people who often only complete compulsory education after 12 years in school.

TurkStat research shows that only four percent of disabled men hold a university degree.

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