Social inclusion is viewed as key for improving the lives of disabled people. Yet, the community often faces obstacles in accessibility, something that is crucial for social inclusion. A lack of ramps for wheelchairs and cars parked in parking spaces for the disabled or in lanes on sidewalks designated for disabled citizens hinder accessibility for many.
Turkey, home to 4.8 million disabled citizens, marked International Day of Persons with Disabilities on Tuesday. Although the government is lauded for landmark reforms to improve the lives of the disabled over the nearly two decades it has been in power, certain issues continue to complicate the lives of the disabled community.
For wheelchair-bound or visually impaired individuals, living in big cities is a particularly difficult experience. Be it commuting or going out on Friday night, getting out of the house means trying to beat the odds for a trouble-free day. Sure, there are sidewalks with ramps for wheelchairs on both ends but most are either very narrow or blocked by haphazardly parked cars. Crossing the road is another problem as elevators installed for the use of the disabled are often out of order or occupied by non-disabled people.
Semra Çetinkaya, vice chair of the Spinal Cord Paralytics Association of Turkey (TOFD), is among the wheelchair-bound citizens who have to cope with daily challenges while outside. Accompanied by a reporter from Anadolu Agency, Çetinkaya gave a glimpse of her daily life as a disabled citizen in Istanbul.
First on her itinerary was a small neighborhood clinic to visit her doctor for an appointment. There was a ramp outside the clinic, but Çetinkaya had to navigate an uneven sidewalk, with pavement stones sticking out, to get to the clinic. Across the street, she was supposed to buy medicine from a pharmacist but there was no ramp for a wheelchair, so she had to call the pharmacist outside and ask him for medicine. "I feel like a second-class citizen," she laments.
Çetinkaya tried to buy a wristwatch from a store on the same street but she could only look at the watches from the store window and had to ask the clerk to bring some watches outside for her to see. "Of course, I want to shop by myself," she said.
Çetinkaya also complained that sometimes, she had to hand over her credit card to salespeople inside the shops she cannot access. "You have to do it if they cannot bring the card reader outside for you. Naturally, disabled people are concerned whether or not their credit cards are secretly, illegally copied inside. You watch such cases of fraud on TV," she said.
She pointed to almost 10 stores along the street. "None have ramps for wheelchairs. It actually has a very simple solution. You can install a wooden ramp but store owners say the municipality does not allow them to install them," she complained. She also wanted to buy some clothes from a department store but there were no dressing rooms inside to accommodate people with disabilities. "I buy the clothes anyway and take them home for trying on. If it doesn't fit, I have to come back to the store to change it," she said.
The PinGoin website may come in handy for Çetinkaya and other disabled citizens. The website, developed by the Social Innovation Center of TED University, lists "disabled-friendly" venues, from restaurants to popular coffee chains. It "pins" the businesses with accessibility options across Turkey to help disabled people decide where to go before they leave the house. This information serve to eliminate risks disabled people can encounter while going out. Businesses and volunteers supply the accessibility information to the site where each venue is rated based on the options they offer. Venues have to have a list of criteria crossed off to be counted as disabled-friendly, from ramps to restrooms for the disabled, to spaces between tables and elevators. Having a menu in braille or staff speaking sign language is a plus and leads to a higher rating on the website.