Sunday, March 22, 2009

Disability group in Turkey presses politicians to keep promises to disabled people there

From Today's Zaman in Turkey:

Projects for the handicapped have been spoken about frequently by candidates for mayoral posts in the upcoming local elections of March 29; however, post-election actions matter more than promises, and so far, the promises made in previous election campaigns have not even been totally fulfilled, said several Turkish civilian organizations for the disabled.

"Ten to 15 years ago, handicapped people were not on the agendas of politicians. Now, when I look at the candidates' election fliers, I see more projects and promises regarding disabled people. But more importantly they must keep their word after elections, which was not the case in previous years," Şükrü Boyraz, head of the Turkish Handicap Association (TSD), told Sunday's Zaman.

Turkish Foundation for the Handicapped (TÜREV) President Zülfinaz Abedan also said in the past, the problems of the disabled were not discussed by politicians at all but that the situation has changed in recent years. "But a politician who is not interested in problems of the disabled before becoming a candidate for a mayoral post does not work for such people's problems after being elected, even if he promises to as a candidate," Abedan told Sunday's Zaman.

Stating that it is normal to make promises to disabled voters before elections, Abedan continued, "We experienced in the previous elections that some candidates came to our foundation demanding our vote. I do not want to reveal names. But they did not do what they promised after winning the election."

Noting that the public must follow an official's actions in office to see if he keeps his word, Boyraz said, "But the public puts the post-election monitoring of politicians aside and does not ask to what extent an official fulfills his promises before being elected. Our society does not look after their rights; however, we always follow elected people, in that sense."

‘We just want to be able to get out onto the streets’

Highlighting that they want to be a part of society, able to use the streets and to mingle with people on the outside, he further said there are few facilities that disabled people can utilize in İstanbul and that there are not even any toilets for such people throughout the city, from Büyükçekmece to Şile. Boyraz further noted that they want to enjoy the same rights as disabled people are entitled in Europe. "After all we are competing to be the European Capital of Culture for 2010," he said, adding: "It is impossible for a disabled people to use the main bus station in the Esenler district of İstanbul. The municipality has been doing us an injustice in the same ways for 15 years, and they just look at us with pity in their eyes."

Boyraz further stressed that they do not want positive discrimination, they just want officials to be sympathetic to their situation. "What we demand doesn't cause a lot of financial burden. We don't want moving stairways but sidewalks that are free of obstacles for the disabled. We want to be taken into consideration when building entrances and exits for a public structure or in city planning. They can plant trees not in the middle of sidewalks but to the sides of them. We do not demand employment; we just want to be able to blend into the crowd on the street," Boyraz said.
‘People’s views of disabled are disabled themselves’

Boyraz further emphasized that handicapped people cannot even exercise their right to vote as citizens since they have difficulty in reaching voting venues because of technical obstacles that have been ignored. "People's views of the disabled are disabled themselves. They just pity us. They cannot vote and cannot be elected by such people. It is their destiny to be disabled. Disabled people are marginalized in society," Boyraz added.

Stating that the current mayor of İstanbul made promises to the disabled before being elected, yet he has not done much work with handicapped people, Boyraz stressed that the big projects on important issues like transportation are implemented without taking handicapped people into consideration. "For example, a Metrobus line and metro lines have been constructed for the convenience of the public. But we can't use them. Centers for disabled people are opened, but they're like handout places for the needy," Boyraz noted.

Emphasizing that they had called politicians to voice their needs, Boyraz said no politician but Republican People's Party (CHP) İstanbul mayoral candidate Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu listened to them at a meeting with civil society organizations for handicapped people. "We called [current mayor Kadir] Topbaş, but he didn't even return our calls and messages. How can a politician who is not disabled himself understand us? I can't know what kind of troubles a blind person has," Boyraz said.

He noted also that he cannot say Topbaş has done nothing good for disabled people: "Topbaş may have done around 5 percent of what he promised. For example, ALO 153 -- a service launched by the İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality's (İBB) Directorate for the Disabled (İSÖM) which allows a disabled person call and gets transportation services for free -- is a very good service. When I first saw it in Germany, I thought it was a dream for Turkey. But now we actually have it," Boyraz noted.