Faize Erdoğan has been living in a wheelchair for the last decade, and at recent local elections in northern Cyprus, was unable to vote because her polling place was an inaccessible elementary school. Faize’s son, Mehmet, decided to take action and campaigned against the obstacles preventing his mother from voting: “My mother was unable to even access the building, as she, and many other disabled individuals like her, had not been considered during the election-planning process. The room that had her voting booth had at least seven or eight big steps, and she couldn’t even enter the room. I watched her being turned away and witnessed up close her sense of demoralisation, and it pushed me to a place of anger fuelled by this incredible sense of injustice.”
The incident was symbolic of a much larger, all-too-familiar struggle – the complete invisibility of disabled individuals and their alienation from public spaces. Following this incident, friends and family were mobilised to rally the local media, and Faize was able to gain the support of more than 50 civil society organizations, including non-profit associations and almost all active political parties. With this support, a protest was organised and a petition was launched based on the UN Declaration of Disability Rights.
“We see this victory not as the end but as the beginning of the struggle.”
This initiative, now known as EngelSiz, asks the question, “Am I disabled? Or are you the disabler?” The group strives to show that it is possible to live without being disabled from public life if only society at large puts effort into it. By distributing a petition over the Internet, EngelSiz collected more than 4,000 signatures in less than a month. The group presented the signatures to the leadership in the Turkish Cypriot community on 13 July, 2010, resulting in an acknowledgement of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Disabled Persons.
“We see this victory not as the end but as the beginning of the struggle,” explains Mehmet. “The northern part of Cyprus is not considered a legal state by any other country other than Turkey, and the authorities cannot sign or be held accountable to the provisions in the UN Declaration”. However, EngelSiz hopes to use the UN Declaration as a basis in the updating of rights related to the disabled community. “Therefore, as a volunteer, independent group of activists, we plan to continue doing awareness raising activities as well as staying involved with high level authorities in seeing through the full implementation of the law.”
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