To Turkey With Love

Since last Tuesday we’ve been in Istanbul. I’d been mentally writing this post all week, excited to share one of the few bits of international work we’ve done since the start of the pandemic. But this won’t be the blog post I was planning because just hours after we left, Turkey and Syria were hit by a huge earthquake which has caused massive loss of life and left many more homeless. So this post will be dedicated to all those who have lost loved ones and been affected by this terrible event.

We were in Turkey for ‘Unlimited Forum Istanbul’, an inclusive arts festival organised by the British Council. We were hosted by an incredible team and met many lovely people during the trip. While Istanbul wasn’t directly impacted by the earthquake, some of those we met had friends or family members who were. Our love, thoughts, and solidarity are with all those affected in Turkey and Syria.

The three-day Unlimited Forum event was incredible, with performances by local disabled artists and residencies that brought people from different parts of Europe together. There were also panel discussions to encourage open dialogue about Disability Culture and the challenges and opportunities of creating inclusive creative spaces. I was invited to give a keynote talk on the opening night and to hold a workshop for local disabled artists.

Istanbul is a beautiful, friendly city and we experienced spontaneous acts of kindness, including being helped to negotiate steep hills, being escorted to great places to eat, and being provided with a place to sit when one of my front wheels fell off on the first night.

There were certainly aspects of the city that were difficult to negotiate as a wheelchair user – the hills and cobbles would have been impossible without my specialised wheelchair wheels and my PA’s deep knowledge of by body. Without their skill and confidence pushing my chair and their willingness for an adventure, we wouldn’t have been able to explore much beyond our hotel. I’m so glad we did though as we got to eat amazing food and soak up the sights and sounds of the city. I’ve been enjoying drawing Istanbul as we experienced since we got back.

An Istanbul city scape drawn by hand on an ipad. The image is roughly square at the top the horizon is the sea with an industrial ship floating on calm water and a submarine breaking the surface. Beneath this are the elegant shapes of mosques and a royal palace. At the centre of the image is a large hotel and several other tall buildings, their many windows a patchwork of different colours. Nestled amongst the tall buildings are older ones including a former brewery that is now an arts centre with colourful light glowing within. A network of streets jut off at steep angles to represent Istanbul’s hills. The drawing is colourful and detailed like the city.

It was clear from our experiences and from talking to other disabled people that access isn’t prioritised within Turkey’s infrastructure, which is the case in many other countries, including the UK. I’ve found myself thinking a lot about this in the last week in relation to aftermath of the earthquake. We know from other disasters and from reports by the United Nations that disabled people are often overlooked within disaster planning and are therefore at particular risk. Alongside a donation to the Disasters Emergency Committee Turkey-Syria Earthquake Appeal which can be found here, I also made a donation to Humanity and Inclusion’s earthquake appeal – they specifically focus on supporting disabled and vulnerable people affected by disasters.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about the work of an incredible disabled-led organisation whose team I met in Istanbul. Please follow and support Erisilebilir Hersey (which translates to Everything Accessible) in any way you can.

To everyone who made us welcome thank you. And to the whole of Turkey and Syria, please know you are in our hearts and our thoughts.

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