On my way to do fieldwork in Sydney, I stopped over in Istanbul to meet with Turkey Spinal Cord Paralytics Association. Since 1998, they have worked with supporting individuals and families, as well as campaigning for social change. During my study visit to the organisation’s premises, I was introduced to different parts of their work.
There’s a large social services department, which provides various support to individuals, couples and families with disabled children. One of their projects aimed to empower mothers of disabled children to find other things in life than caring, as the current benefits system gives the ‘caring benefits’ to the mother who is then supposed to stay home with the child(ren). Because of the benefit for wheelchairs is so low, TOFD also fundraises for people to be able to purchase adequate ones.
The organisation also employs disabled people to work in their accessible textile atelier, where they make clothes and other items for sale in major brand shops. The picture below shows the atelier, which is run by Kadir, a man with dwarfism, who has worked there for 19 years:
Like is emphasised in many disability movements around the world, TODF works a lot with peer support to provide role models, an opportunity to build an identity that is not based on tragedy, and offering support and services that allow people to become less dependent on their families. TODF also conducts research in different parts of Turkey in order to get more reliable statistics and understandings of disabled people’s lived experiences.
After being introduced to the different parts of the organisation, I had a meeting with the founders of TODF; president Ramazan Baş and committee member Semra Cetinkaya. They were interested in starting to work more with sexuality issues and wanted to hear about my research, and specifically the ways of organising sexual facilitation in different countries.
Photo of me (standing), Samra (in wheelchair), Ramazan (in power chair) and Hilal Döner (standing) in front of a rolll-up with the TOFD logo ( the blue wheelchair symbol within an orange sun). Hilal was my contact person in Istanbul and translator during the meeting. She has previously worked in TOFD and with research on sexuality and disability.
With regards to the situation in Turkey, Ramazan mentioned that structural barriers such as economy, inaccessibility and religion were major obstacles that prevented disabled people from sexual opportunities. In other words, even if the state would offer benefits or other types of support around sexuality, there would still be many other barriers to overcome before being able to really becoming independent and within that, sexual. There is also a great need for awareness raising among rehabilitation professionals and families with disabled family members.
TOFD would like to arrange a symposium in Turkey to gather all parties interested in sexuality and (physical) disability issues, so the next step in our newfound relationship will be to plan that, which feels very exciting!