This is the story of extraordinary people with “Dreams” who are seeking an “Alternative”. Their stories speak louder than numbers and repeated statistics. This is the story of the World’s Largest Minority, persons with disabilities. It is an ongoing journey to break free of the social constructs and obstacles that perpetuate the “disability problem” in Turkey. It is also the story of one ourageous individual, Ercan Tutal who embarked on a personal quest to become the change he wished to see in the world. Through his leadership, a generation of young social entrepreneurs has become part of a series of innovative solutions to the “disability problem” in Turkey.
The unjust kingdom
While studying in Germany, Ercan Tutal observed and became acutely aware of the gap that existed between the level of participation and inclusion of people with disabilities in German society and his home country, Turkey. In Germany people with disabilities were visible; they were not the “Other”. In Turkey people with disabilities faced social, cultural and architectural barriers that made them the invisible minority and kept them away from participation and inclusion in society.
The Innovation Journey
With no time to lose, Ercan Tutal looked to the Seas for inspiration and began his heroic quest. He embarked on a journey to places where no one had thought about going before. The first stop along the journey was the depths of the Red Sea. Ercan Tutal set out to introduce the world of underwater to people with disabilities. Since 1998, Ercan Tutal and his students have taken along with them around 2000 people with disabilities to discover “Diving is Freedom”. Ercan Tutal used the medium of water to demonstrate that an Alternative World free of barriers that handicapped people was possible. In this World gaps between the able and disabled bodies did not exist and eyes without sight had new visions.
The battle and the way back home
Unfortunately, not everyone shared these visions. There were many challenges along the way. Some of these were structural obstacles that impeded and resisted social innovation in Turkey. Doors were closed to individuals proposing alternatives to old ways of thinking but Ercan Tutal did not give up, he persevered and his Alternative vision led to “Alternative Camp”.
Since 2002, Alternative Camp has shared its vision of bridging the gap among different abilities, ages, sexes, cultures and languages through the medium of sports with over 7000 people with disabilities from 250 local and global organizations and 1000 volunteers from around the world. Alternative Camp has been replicated across the country and has become a self-sustaining innovative agent of social change.
The vision of Alternative Camp has been embodied in the Alternative Life Association (AYDER). AYDER has produced alternative, innovative and self-sustaining projects. Dreams Academy is the latest in a series of projects that provide Alternative solutions for active involvement of people with disabilities in society. Alternative Camp carries the torch in realizing the dream of “Sports for All” while Dreams Academy and its new baby project Social Inclusion Band keep the flame alive through “Arts & Music for All”.
The journey goes on. The Dream for an Alternative world will continue as long as there are dreamers. “They ask if the blind can dream. Yes they do. It’s those without dreams who are getting blind. In this fast flow it is our collective blindness not the individual lack of sight that we hesitate naming”.