Saturday, March 5, 2011

Turkish President says disabled people should not be hidden; it's not an honorable way for societies to behave

From Today's Zaman in Turkey:

Some societies and families try to hide disabled members from public view, which is no way to address their problems, President Abdullah Gül has said, adding that such a way of dealing with the issue is not worthy of an honorable society.

President Gül, speaking yesterday at the World Handicapped Symposium at İstanbul's WOW Hotel, said representatives from all over the world were attending the symposium. “The reason I am here is quite obvious. A few months ago, [blind singer] Metin Şentürk visited me and said he had plans to bring all civil society organizations that focus on the disabled under one roof. I told him I would gladly attend. We need to attract the entire world's attention to this issue, remembering that every person is potentially handicapped,” he said.

He said about 8 percent of the Turkish population had some form of disability, noting that there are an estimated 650 million disabled people in the world. “Everyone is entitled to human rights at birth. We know that there are many inadequacies regarding the disabled around the world. There may be some countries that offer improved conditions to their disabled, but there is major negligence on the part of the majority of the world.”

Gül said instead of hiding their disabled from sight, societies around the globe should try to adopt new ideas that have been developed over the years in order to address the issue. He said international conventions on the rights of the disabled have been adopted by the United Nations.

The president said Turkey has taken some important steps on this issue. He said governments should allocate adequate funds in their budgets to the needs of the disabled.

State Minister and chief EU negotiator Egemen Bağış also attended the conference. In his speech, he emphasized that Turkey values its disabled, underlining that works by Aşık Veysel, a blind minstrel and legendary poet of folk literature, were still popular in our days. He also noted that Turkey has taken important steps in improving the quality of life for the disabled.

Speaking at the same conference, State Minister Selma Aliye Kavaf announced changes adopted by the Supreme Election Board (YSK), which will allow the wheelchair bound and others with disabilities to use special ballot boxes that will make it easier for them to cast their votes. “The voter registration database now indicates people with disabilities, which will allow them to cast their votes at a designated ballot box designed to accommodate people with disabilities, without having to wait in line,” she said, adding that the changes will be in place in the June 12 elections.

Şentürk, who heads the World Handicapped Foundation, expressed his gratitude to President Gül for his attendance. He said he was happy to be leading a project he has dreamed of for so long. He said the World Handicapped Foundation will make a difference in the lives of 650 million handicapped people around the world.