Moved to Turkey, 1993

“Neyiniz var ki beni soruyorsunuz?”

Thirteen years ago, as an outsider moving into a different culture, I was frustratingly impaired by my lack of verbal language. I was ‘sweet / strange and unpredictable / interesting / ignored’, but not equal. I learnt to observe carefully, and had to question my assumptions about norms of behaviour, interactions, body language and relationships. I also noted the absence of disabled people actively involved in society. Any attempts to talk were not just limited by my Turkish: disabled people I asked had difficulties expressing something they had never been asked. My questions puzzled and even disturbed some, meaning little without a context. To generate evidence that things could be different, I began to draw on years in NGOs and disability awareness from Britain.

Starting at the Middle East Technical University as an English teacher in 1996, I found my training and experience as a UK school governor allowed me to work with the rare disabled students and, analysing specific cases of exclusion, to propose possible solutions. Since then in 11 years of cooperation with a number of disabled students, we have developed an approach based on realistic appraisal of expectations and potential to avoid repeating previous ineffective patterns or generating superficial short term solutions.

Engelsiz ODTU (METU without Barriers) has led an EU project that has brought together representatives from over a quarter of all Turkish universities to discuss the needs of disabled university students. It also has an agreement with Ankara LEA (Ankara Il Milli Egitim Baskanligi) aiming at developing the active involvement of disabled students in pre-university education and raising the awareness of non-disabled peers, teachers and administrators.

This text was submitted to the British Council “40 Stations” project, in June 2007. Exhibitions [1] took place in London (2008), Istanbul (Feb-March 2009) and Ankara (March-April 2009).