Accessing Istanbul

I moved to Istanbul two weeks ago and will spend the summer engaging with issues of spatial justice in the city through an internship with ‘Beyond Istanbul’. Here is the first piece I wrote on disability laws and accessibility in the city of Istanbul.

https://beyond.istanbul/disability-in-istanbul-towards-an-integrated-society-aba6b02a292d

Disability in Istanbul: Towards an Integrated Society

“Persons with disabilities have to be taken into account as subjects of development, not just an object of development.” [1] Towards an Inclusive and Accessible Future for All, UNDP report, 2013

n_75043_1.jpg
Figure 1: “Engelsiz yasam esit yurttaşlık” (Unhindered life, equal citizenship!)
Source: http://disabilityrightswatch.net/

The following research discusses disability in Istanbul as the subject of development through a rights-based approach versus an object of development through a charity-based approach, against the backdrop of Turkey’s legal framework for disability. This has been done by a critical reading of academic literature and reports on the subject. The research aims to emphasize on the need for a comprehensive local disability movement in Istanbul, which not only takes into account physical accessibility issues, but also the more deep-rooted issues on perception of disability.

According to the last disability census conducted in 2002, 13% of the Turkish population is disabled, constituting around 8.5 million citizens.[2] Within Turkish politics, disability has been positioned as a politically neutral subject, and has thus usually been incorporated in political campaigns mainly through channels of charity.[3] Even so, the Turkish Government has taken some policy initiatives as represented broadly in the timeline below.

20 June_Timeline.jpg

Figure 2: Timeline of legal framework for disability in Turkey
Source: Author’s elaboration of data

Although the late 90s saw the formation of units to tackle the challenges faced by the disabled, the major shift took place in 2005 with the introduction of Law no. 5378 aka the “Turkish Disability Act”, which prescribes a comprehensive rights-based approach for the disabled.[4] In addition Turkey signed the UN CRPD (Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities) in 2007, encouraging equal access to human rights and freedom for the disabled. Further, the CRPD was reflected in the Disability Act through amendments made in 2014, in order to prohibit disability-based discrimination.[5]

While recognizing these measures as positive steps towards the ultimate goal of securing rights and effective integration of disabled citizens, unfortunately these policies mainly levitate at a discursive level. For example, if we consider the accessibility challenges faced in the hilly topography of Istanbul, we see from the timeline that under the Disability Act, a period of seven years (2005-2012) was granted to the municipalities to make the city’s infrastructure accessible for the disabled citizens. Due to its incompletion, this period was further extended till 2015.[6] Now we are towards the end of a second extension that has been granted up to 2018, while by a majority, the city still continues to be inaccessible. [7] In addition, the implementation of the law, according to researcher Dikmen Bezmez, has been ‘ad hoc’ with no legal ramifications in case of its violation.

One of the main reasons for the disparity in the policy and the implementation in Istanbul can be traced to the gaps in the functioning of the top-down and bottom-up institutions. Their power-relations and approaches are represented in Figure 2. Through the influence of institutions like the UN and EU, the Turkish Parliament saw a shift and adopted a rights-based approach towards disability through the law passed in 2005, wherein the questions of citizenship, freedom and rights are at the forefront. In the case of Istanbul, although the Metropolitan Municipality prescribes the right-based doctrine handed down by the Parliament, the bottleneck in the enforcement extrudes across the district municipalities, who tend to implement a more charity-based approach. The district municipalities justify this by expressing their position, which is more closely linked to the community, posing challenges in compromising the demands and convenience of the ‘non-disabled’ citizens in the attempt to meet the rights of the disabled. Thus it becomes easier to provide wheelchairs than infrastructural changes.[8] This in fact raises additional questions on the perception and awareness of the citizens themselves, towards the rights and needs of disabled citizens.

DIAGRAM.jpgFigure 3: Top-down and bottom-up gaps in Istanbul’s disability access
Source: Author’s elaboration from Bezmez, 2013

“Unless our public spaces are accessible, neither education nor employment is possible. If a person with a disability cannot even step out of his or her home, cannot get into a bus or a train, how will he or she be able to go to college or university? Will the college or university be accessible? If persons with disabilities obtain educational qualifications will their future workplace be accessible?” [9]
Towards an Inclusive and Accessible Future for All, UNDP report, 2013

The above interview quoted from a UNDP accessibility report, lays stress on securing spatial justice through accessibility as a first step towards the progress of disabled citizens. However, from what we have seen earlier (figure 2), due to the possibility of clashing interests between the disabled and non-disabled citizens, the latter have posed a hurdle in the implementation of accessibility, and additionally this can be attributed to a lack of awareness and sensitization in citizen-groups.[10] The non-visibility of disabled citizens in public spaces has contributed to this lack of awareness and due to this there is little support from non-disabled citizens in making their neighborhoods accessible. Thus on examining the accessibility and perception of disability, we can conclude that it frames a chicken or egg causality dilemma.
diagram 2.jpgFigure 4: Linkages between accessibility and perception of disability
Source: Author’s elaboration

In order to secure spatial justice for the disabled, Turkey needs to incorporate an integrated disability-movement [11], which alongside the physical upgrading, engages with the perception towards disability for the non-disabled citizens. Although anti-discriminatory laws have been put into place through the CRPD, they need to be imbibed in society not only through the vocabulary ‘prohibition’ of discrimination but also through the comprehension of what a right-based approach entails.

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References

[1] United Nations. (2013). Towards an Inclusive and Accessible Future for All. Retrieved from http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/librarypage/poverty-reduction/towards-an-inclusive-and-accessible-future-for-all.html

[2] State Institute of Statistics. (2002). Turkey Disability Survey, 5. Retrieved from http://www.turkstat.gov.tr/Kitap.do?metod=KitapDetay&KT_ID=11&KITAP_ID=14

[3] Bezmez, D. (2013). Urban Citizenship, the Right to the City and Politics of Disability in Istanbul. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 37(1). 93-114. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2427.2012.01190.x

[4] Aquilar, C.D. (n.d.). Contribution to the Questionnaire from OHCHR Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Retrieved from http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Disability/DisabilityInclusivePolicies/States/PM%20Turkey_ENG.docx

[5] Bezmez, D. (2013). Urban Citizenship, the Right to the City and Politics of Disability in Istanbul. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 37(1). 93-114. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2427.2012.01190.x

[6] ibid

[7] Evsen, M. (2015). Disability Rights in Turkey: Time for Change. Turkish Policy Quarterly, 13(4). Retrieved from http://turkishpolicy.com/article/727/disability-rights-in-turkey-time-for-change-winter-2015

[8] Bezmez, D. (2013). Urban Citizenship, the Right to the City and Politics of Disability in Istanbul. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 37(1). 93-114. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2427.2012.01190.x

[9] United Nations. (2013). Towards an Inclusive and Accessible Future for All. Retrieved from http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/librarypage/poverty-reduction/towards-an-inclusive-and-accessible-future-for-all.html

[10] Sidi-Sarfati, M. (2014). How to Enable the Disabled in Turkey. Retrieved from http://www.nyu.edu/classes/keefer/EvergreenEnergy/MarkSidiSarfati.pdf

[11] Bezmez, D. (2013). Urban Citizenship, the Right to the City and Politics of Disability in Istanbul. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 37(1). 93-114. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2427.2012.01190.x

 

 

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