Turkey's first disabled mayor aims to improve lives of people with disabilities

In 2005, the ruling Justice and Development Party adopted Turkey's first Disability Law as a part of its European Union accession process. In 2007, Turkey signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Persons with Disabilities, which it ratified in 2009. 

Yet due to poor implementation and enforcement and a lingering social stigma, people with disabilities still face major hurdles on a daily basis in Turkey. Now the country’s first disabled mayor hopes to make their lives just as easy and enjoyable as it is for others. 

"The people with disabilities having an impact upon politics is an expression of the development of democracy," said Turan Hançerli, main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) mayor in Istanbul's Avcılar district after winning the March 31 vote. 

"For a fair and free Turkey, every part of the society must walk side by side with people with disabilities. The discrimination they have suffered so far has been left behind, we have to look forward. So we have to equalise people,” he said. 

44-year-old Hançerli, who lost his arms in an accident in 1993, has a postgraduate degree in law and serves as general secretary in charge of law for the Confederation of the Disabled of Turkey. 

Government failures to implement solutions for the disabled or fix antiquated social services have left people with disabilities seemingly invisible. As a result, thousands of disabled people in Turkey live hidden from view and deprived of most public services.

Turan Hançerli with his constituents
Turan Hançerli with his constituents

"Disabled means people who are unemployed, poor, uneducated, ignored and those who can't reach public services," Hançerli said. 

For Turkey’s disabled the unemployment rate hovers between 40 to 50 percent, while laws on employing people with disabilities are not enforced, according to the mayor of Avcılar, which lies along the Marmara Sea on the city’s European side. 

Employers in the private sector see poor enforcement of the penalty, a sizeable fine, for failing to fill their quota of disabled staffers. In addition, unemployed disabled people receive a monthly pension of just 700 Turkish lira, a third of Turkey’s minimum wage, which is a shame for human dignity, according to Hançerli. 

People with disabilities also face problems when they attempt to take advantage of public services. Special education, or special needs education, for example, is severely limited in Turkey due to lack of proper implementation and insufficient lecture hours.

Hançerli said eight hours of training per month for disabled children is inadequate and those children do not receive the type of education that suits their needs. Most parents of disabled children stop sending their child to these schools because they learn so little. 

Hançerli said he wants to change the situation for the disabled through inclusive policies that reduce barriers to health care, education, employment and the active participation to take democracy on the local level a step further.

© Ahval English

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.