Pavithran takes training to Turkey

Dec 17, 2012
Photo of Sachin Pavithran
Sachin Pavithran

By Sue Reeves

A trip to Istanbul, Turkey in November turned into a heated four-day discussion of advocacy and empowerment issues for Utah Assistive Technologies Program (UATP) director Sachin Pavithran and three colleagues. The humanitarian effort, coordinated by LDS Charities, was meant to train families and teachers to work with students who are deaf.

The group, which included two people who are deaf and one sign-language interpreter in addition to Pavithran, started researching the disability issues in Turkey after being contacted by LDS Charities in July. The research expanded to issues faced by people with a broad range of disabilities, instead of only people who are deaf.

Pavithran, who earlier this month was appointed to the U.S. Access Board by President Barack Obama, said the topics were supposed to be basic things like empowerment, accommodations and how to get them, and how to deal with psychologists, who are the point of contact for anyone with any kind of disability in Turkey.

The discussions each day were targeted toward specific groups—parents, teachers, psychologists and government officials—but by the last day, the lines had blurred as each group tried to make its views known. About 200 people participated in the discussions Nov. 7-10.

Photo of handicapped ramp sign in Istanbul

Government officials disagreed with families on how much effort is being made to accommodate people with disabilities, citing examples like mandated curb cuts. The cuts, however, are at a 45-degree angle, making them difficult to maneuver.

“They’ve tried to duplicate the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) without the standards,” Pavithran said. “They’re trying to do the right thing without the technical stuff,” he said.

Pavithran said he lost a lot of that interaction due to the language barrier, but it was clear all sides were strongly opinionated.

Stairwell in Turkey
A public stairwell in Istanbul, Turkey. Photo courtesy of

“It was a little nerve-wracking when the moms got a little excited,” he said. “I tried my best not to get them angry and then turn them loose. It did make me a little nervous when the government officials pulled me aside.”

The discussion needed to happen, he said, although during subsequent sessions, everything was improvised.

 “My slides went out the window,” he said. He talked about empowerment, how disability movements happen and about civil rights.

“The third day got very heated,” Pavithran said.

He ended the discussions by telling participants that getting upset is not going to help.

“You need to get organized,” he said. “You can’t do it on your own—you have to find organizations and find people of influence and network. You need to start talking to the government people.”

The organizers in Istanbul knew a group was coming from the U.S., but they didn’t know any of the panel members would have disabilities.

“They were completely taken aback that there was someone with a disability at this level,” Pavithran said. “They said, ‘we want our kids to be able to do this.’”

The Turkish National Federation of the Deaf says there are approximately 3 million people with hearing disabilities in Turkey. The training only impacted a small community in Istanbul, Pavithran said, but it has the potential to grow.

“Based on how they decide to reach out, it could be much bigger,” he said. “It has to be their choice.”

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