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Spotlight on Turkey: Creating an Alternative Life for those with Disabilities

Turkey, as a signer to the UN Disability Convention is obligated to find solutions for the country’s disabled population, which is approximately 12,3% of the total. Due to the enormous gap between where our disabled citizens stand and where they should be a wide variety services and opportunities should be provided as a basic human right without discrimination to generate equal opportunity for all. The lack for this “major minority” excludes them from social life, education and production, and therefore deprives them of their basic human rights and freedoms.

Alternative Life Association (AYDER) is a non-governmental organization that was established in, and incorporated under, the laws of Turkey, with the purpose of increasing awareness of the needs of socially and physically disadvantaged people, and easing their integration into social life. AYDER also works to develop partnerships among disadvantaged groups with governments, local authorities and the private sector.

Ercan Tutal, the founder of AYDER has addressed Turkey’s disability issues for over a decade with many socially inclusive projects. AYDER aims to create alternative and innovative social projects which include education, sports, tourism and health elements for the handicapped and disadvantaged groups and thus convert this “major minority” to a productive and active society that can take part in social life independently.

Beginning in 1998 Ercan Tutal has created the following projects for disabled people.

  • Diving is Freedom is a project based on the standards of Handicapped Scuba Association. This project is a full training programme for people with special needs.
  • Alternative Camp is a volunteer sports project for the disabled which increases their self-esteem, physical mobility as well as greater social integration and awareness among them.
  • “Reha Istanbul”, an organization, which brings together NGOs, private and social enterprises in an effort to find cooperative solutions for chronic problems faced by the handicapped, older people and other disadvantaged groups.
  • "Barrier-free Tourism for Everyone" project has been working to ensure that handicapped people, old people and people with diseases can travel free of restrictions.
  • Dreams Academy, an innovative social responsibility project, was founded in 2009 with an idea to make gains for “socially excluded” people, providing equal opportunity participation with the “Art for All” approach. Dreams Academy is financially supported by UNDP, Vodafone Turkey Foundation and DPT (State Planning Organization). Dreams Academy believes arts as one of the most important tools for building up and evaluating creative and productive individuals within society. Art can be seen as the most important opportunity for the disabled and socially disadvantaged young population to produce new ideas as well as actively and equally participate in society.

Obstacles & Challenges

Ignorance & Lack of Awareness: The ignorance of, and prejudice against, our major minority must be overcome. There is a need for greater awareness of both the rights as well as the abilities of the disabled.

Lack of Juridical Principals and the role of Government: Though several government institutions took part in the formation and work of the Dreams Academy, there is still a lack of juridical infrastructure and there are still solutions to be provided by government bodies.   

Basic Rights: People with disabilities should have the same rights and freedoms as all people. However disabled people could not benefit from the services provided to the society such as education, health, transportation, etc.

Need for civil initiatives:  There is insufficient support of NGOs and academic societies.

Financial Strength & Sponsors: There is no settled system to create access to a financial source model. The main concerns of NGOs often spring from their reliance on sponsors and volunteers to maintain and continue social projects.


In order to increase their recognition and brand value, the funds allocated to NGOs by the privately owned companies increase continuously. They are currently the most important financial sponsors for projects. On the other hand, the role of public institutions is much more limited. Turkey lacks a public addressee that is directly concerned with this subject. For this reason there is no statistical data, official information and documents specifically related with disabled people.

For more information, please visit the Dreams Academy webpage.


15 Jun 2011