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The Least-Friendly City for Those with Disabilities or Accessibility Struggles?

Imagine yourself, for a moment, in a wheelchair, blind, elderly, or as a younger you - a child. While many of you reading this post have never struggled with accessibility, there are many who do. Universal design and universal accessibility refer to ideas and design meant to produce or provide buildings, products, and environments that are accessible to both people without disabilities and with disabilities, but also for those in their earliest and latest years of their lives. On a daily basis, in Istanbul, Turkey, individuals traverse broken pavements, struggle with a lack of pedestrian-ways (often reverting to walking in the streets or gutters), a vehicle-predominated vs. pedestrian culture, uneven stairways, slick surfaces and cobblestones, and more. Walking on the "sidewalks" can be troublesome for those without special needs, let alone, individuals who are pushing a child's stroller, utilizing a wheelchair or crutches, or the elderly who are at risk of serious injuries due to falls. Seasonally, Istanbul provides additional obstacles for those who venture outdoors during the snowy months of January to March. Those without accessibility issues can even struggle (I know that I have slipped and fell on many snow-capped cobblestones). 

The average public stairway in Istanbul, Turkey

Today, the street is Istanbul's most common pedestrian-way

Many groups have been formed, within Istanbul, to address issues of universal accessibility. Among these groups is TAG Platform. TAG Platform's goal is to debunk the myth that design is equivalent to luxury. Design does not exclusively apply to lux high-end design, it includes the designs of streets too. In fact, design is all around us. TAG Platform hopes to change these perceptions in Istanbul through educational role-playing workshops where students go into the field to experience access through the eyes and experiences of a mother, child, blind person, and more. Furthermore, TAG Platform will be showcasing an exhibition at the Istanbul Design Biennial in October 2012, themed imperfection, which will highlight accessibility imperfections in the Karakoy, Istanbul area. This will include a film and map of these imperfections. Additionally, they are developing an online version which will allow individuals to pin locations within Turkey where accessibility needs municipality's attention. 

Their hope is that through their workshops, exhibition, and mapping that greater awareness will be developed and the municipalities will begin taking action rather than vaguely listening. They also hope that rather than municipalities creating temporary solutions, that they will become more innovative, developing longer-term solutions for something as simple as the answer to the question: Why is pavement construction and renewal occurring annually on Istiklal Caddesi rather than finding another paving solution? In general, the development of Istanbul has been chaotic. Development with little planning; execution without thought. Until, perhaps, it is realized it could have been done another way - and then they redo the initial thought. Overall, it's a cycle of do it and then let's see. It is seen all around Istanbul, that this is a city ruled by engineers and architects; not planners. And unfortunately, this has developed many accessibility issues throughout the city, even at times that a meager effort has been made by the city.

When I sat down this week with TAG Platform's Neslihan Sik, I asked what her biggest hopes for Istanbul are. Neslihan hopes that one day Istanbul will be "designed with pedestrian-ways, cars will be prevented from parking on pedestrian-ways, there will be an increase in wheelchair access, and the removal of obstructions from established pedestrian-ways; including tables and decorations set-out on sidewalks that obstruct movement or decrease the sidewalk's width."

While it is unclear how soon universal accessibility will become a reality for Turkey, there is surely a lot of work to be done. Public education is paramount in the development of universal accessibility. Do you know what these raised paths are for?

Many would say for decoration or part of the pavement design, if you were to ask someone in Turkey. However, as recently featured in the Radikal newspaper, they are installed to help the blind access pedestrian-ways (although the one in the image seems to be leading towards a dead-end?); especially in the subway system. So, if you are a Turkish resident, be sure that the next time you see a business using the raised path (often yellow) as a flower pot stand, you educate them. They're creating an obstacle for the blind!

Having seen the images of "bad turkish streets," what would be your first suggestion to the Turkish government to become a universally designed country?