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Government Study in Turkey Reveals Poor Access to Transit and Public Space
A sign for the special olympics in Turkey.

A sign for a lift for disabled people. Photo by Quinn Dombrowski.

A new study conducted by the Turkish government reveals that handicapped citizens face serious and consistent discrimination and barriers to mobility, access to public space and services, including public transit. Turkish daily newspaper Hurriyet reported on the results last week.

The article said that for the handicapped, transportation is “stressful” and they often “do not benefit from public transportation because of access issues – 72 percent of people with disabilities in urban areas and 59 percent in rural areas reported transportation problems.” Some additional figures from the survey on the disabled population in Turkey are:

  • 65 percent report being mocked and suffering from ill-treatment from strangers;
  • 42 percent report mistreatment by public servants;
  • 71 percent of Turkey’s disabled are not aware of legislation regarding their disabilities;
  • 31 percent encounter “constant discrimination in their work life;”
  • 77 percent of disabled people have difficulty accessing pedestrian areas and public parks; and
  • 70 percent report difficulty accessing public buildings and services.

Often, public transit systems, particularly in the developing world, fail to address the needs of disabled populations, despite research and design that shows how basic adjustments improve access and usability for all, including the elderly, children and people with “hidden disabilities.” (We wrote about a recent World Bank study on inclusivity in bus rapid transit design.) Transportation design that meets the needs of all residents would have a significant impact. In Turkey, 13 percent, or 13.5 million people, are disabled.

Designing cities with an emphasis on inclusivity is a challenge across the world.

Designing cities with an emphasis on inclusivity is a challenge but necessary. Photo by Jan Van Schinjdel.

Meeting the Needs of the Disabled in Istanbul

Istanbul is a city teeming with an estimated 12 million people and struggles to manage its complex boundaries of land within narrow east-west peninsulas. Roads and buildings reach the water’s edge, and the city sprawls with no seeming order or centrality.

To accommodate commuters and other residents, Istanbul has an extensive bus network that criss-crosses the city, including a BRT system called Metrobus, which EMBARQ (the producer of this blog), helped to launch. There is also a short metro rail, two underground funicular railways, two light rail metros, tramways, suburban rail trains and ferries. İstanbul Elektrik Tramvay ve Tünel (IETT) runs this extensive system.

The city’s new BRT does include some features that take into account people with disabilities. For example, the BRT offers level-boarding where the curb meets the bus platform.  But a 2008 evaluation of the system by EMBARQ’s Senior Transport Engineer Dario Hidalgo found that buses were inadequately meeting riders at the curb. Also, many stations lack facilities like ramps, elevators and escalators. Only eight BRT stations were considered accessible to handicapped people, according to a SUM-Türkiye report [PDF] on the system.

The city’s new BRT system could certainly improve in its integration of options for those with disabilities. Plus, the newly planned 45-kilometer extension of the city’s metro system is another opportunity to better serve the city’s neediest.

There are other efforts, too. Thousands more handicapped people are being appointed to work in public service, an effort that will not only provide more employment to the disabled population, which currently experiences a 53 percent unemployment rate, but will also bring more awareness to the issue of accessibility. Also, information from the Administration for Disabled People highlights that in 2007 Turkey signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

As Turkey pushes to move forward, leaving behind a key segment of its population would mean a failure for its cities and the country as a whole.  Although developing countries often find that inclusive design can be a burden, typically because of cost, it is important to note that there are creative and thoughtful designs and devices, such as audible stop calls, that can be inexpensive and benefit a broad population. Plus, accessibility for the disabled means basic improvements like flat and well-maintained sidewalks, something all citizens can benefit from.

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