According to data from the Turkish Statistical Institute (TurkStat), there are approximately five million people with disabilities in Turkey. This number corresponds to 6.6 percent of the population. According to TurkStat data, 67 percent of disabled people have accessibility problems while walking on pavements and roads. 66 percent have accessibility problems in their homes, 60 percent in stores and 58 percent in public buildings. Employment is also one of the biggest problems facing people with disabilities and only 23 percent of disabled people are employed. 

This data sadly shows us that the accessibility for disabled people is a big issue in Turkey. Along with accessibility problems in physical spaces, digital spaces too are not convenient for the disabled. Not many tech companies take the extra step to invest in digital accessibility in their online products. We believe, accessibility should not be a luxury, and everyone should be able to equally access and benefit from a service or product. 

In line with our commitment to equality and diversity, we aim to ensure all our online products are accessible by our disabled users as well and it was a great chance to meet with Erol Tasgin one of the Nesta Creative Enterprise programme participants who specialises on disability access for products and services and who wishes to improve his business ideas in this area. Following his completion of Nesta training programme in Turkey, we started to work with Erol as our consultant on our ‘Museum Without Walls’ digital exhibition project, which is a virtual arts space accessible through any device with an internet connection. Here is Erol’s personal journey from Nesta Creative Enterprise programme to the digital exhibition…

1.Can you briefly tell us about yourself? How come you started a business to deal with the issue of disabled access to products and services? 

I am 25 years old and have graduated from the Econometrics Department of Marmara University. After graduation, I’ve worked at an international insurance company for three years as a Financial Expert. In fact, the starting point that led to establishing my own business Zeyra Technology, was an international fair on assistive technologies, which I attended. Following this fair, I realized that many technologies and products for the disabled are very expensive. Some technologies were not available in our country or would not arrive here long after their initial release. As someone being involved in many different groups of disabled people since birth, this issue caught my attention. I realised how important technology could be for those with disabilities, so I wanted to take a concrete step. 

Before launching my own business, I started working on projects about software, web accessibility and R&D products. Through these projects, I aimed to enable equal opportunity for people with disabilities too and to increase their inclusion into the human production and consumption cycle. At the end of this process, I resigned from the company I was working at in Istanbul and took my first step towards establishing my own business in Ankara. 

Individuals with disabilities are an important part of Turkey who demand access to information and services through support technologies. With Zeyra Technology, I wanted to cater the needs of people with disabilities, work and give consultation on accessibility and make digital products more accessible for all users. When your products and services are accessible on online platforms, it means gaining confidence of a considerable amount of audience who would be interested in your products and services. Accessibility of the websites and mobile applications can only be understood if they get tested by disabled individuals. Our disabled staff review every page and template of the websites and mobile applications to identify which issues they face with support technologies, and they report those findings with automatic tests. Suggestions are given to our clients for the solution of problems regarding accessibility. The tests continue until all the problems are resolved in every browser and all the support technologies.

2.What was your starting point about tackling with the challenges of disability access to products and services in Turkey?

Our starting point is to improve the knowledge and skills of disabled people by technological means and to break down the prejudices against them. For example, in the past, a person would have to make voice reading to a voice recorder and visually impaired people would either had to find a volunteer or pay a fee to a person to read a book. Whereas now, they can purchase the electronic version of the book or make the book accessible through a browser.

Thanks to technology, individuals with disabilities can now perform many things that they believed they couldn’t before. It was believed that visually impaired people were only able to do mostly civil service, telephone operating, in the public sector before and were assigned in these areas. However now, if the system is made accessible, visually impaired individual can write, send and archive documents, and can do all the filing operations that any person can do. It would not have been possible for a blind teacher to write on the blackboard in the past. Whereas now, thanks to a wireless or Bluetooth keyboard connected to interactive boards built into classes, writing on the board has become very simple.

However, there are still many challenges to be dealt with and we believe that these obstacles will be overcome in the future. Most of the products for people with disabilities are imported to our country and thus the prices are too high. We want people with disabilities to have access to these products without blowing their budgets. Braille display, colour recognition device, screen magnification programs, Braille printer and daily life products are extremely expensive. We would like to uncover quality products with minimum cost for such products. We also aim to make life easier for people with disabilities with their mobile applications.

3.How did you hear about Nesta Creative Enterprise programme? What were the key benefits of taking part and what have you personally learnt?

I first read about Nesta Creative Enterprise programme in an email. After reading about it, I began researching the programme. I thought that this programme would help me with the development of our projects, so I sent my application and got accepted.

After attending the programme, I can now better communicate my work and goals to institutions. Thanks to this programme, I realized that I was bogging down my proposals with too much terminology. One of the biggest takeaways from the programme is that I can now explain my work in 30 seconds. I learned a lot from every project in the programme. I was able to come up with new ideas and projects through brainstorming.

4.What has changed in your life after attending the programme?

After the programme, we improved our strategies as a company. We met new people and came up with new projects and ideas. Most importantly, we began a wonderful partnership with the British Council Turkey to increase accessibility in their new online exhibition “Museum Without Walls.” Initiated for the first time in 2017, British Council Turkey's Arts team has offered a curated show out of the British Council Collection, a ‘Museum Without Walls’ in a virtual space which can be accessed by anyone having an internet connection. British Council has launched ‘Dancing with Witches’, third edition of the digital arts platform ‘Museum without Walls’ on 16 January 2019. By bringing the gallery into a digital environment, this project provides a new, innovative exhibition experience which sets ‘Arts for all’ as its main principle and emphasises that art is not a luxury and it should be accessible to everyone. We believe the accessibility of a service must be considered by the entire creative team. The British Council Turkey team shares this awareness, which has strengthened our belief in our objectives. 

As the accessibility consultant of this project, we’ve focused on improving the accessibility and making website more user friendly for all visitors. By prioritising accessibility, the online exhibition was designed specifically to be available from every desktop or mobile device in the world and has been customised to serve as a comfortable exhibition experience for people with disabilities. It gives visitors the freedom to read and explore the exhibition by offering a variety of facilities such as audio description, ease of reading and Turkish and international sign language. Visitors can receive detailed written, visual and audio information about the works and artists in this virtual exhibition space. With the accessibility work that is carried out in “Museum Without Walls” project, we created a digital exhibition that complies with universal design principles and will lead to accessibility for all. 

Most institutions which conduct studies for the benefit of people with disabilities proceed without consulting them. As a result, products are generally far from the expected result. In “Museum Without Walls”, we worked with disabled people’s needs and consult them before launching the exhibition. 

5.How can accessibility be integrated into digital and other platforms?

Accessibility is part of the principle of universal design, which is included in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. According to this principle, all members of a society should be considered from the outset when designing a product. Everyone must be able to equally access and benefit from a service. Our motivation stems from our commitment to creating this awareness within our country. We believe that technology can provide this opportunity. Employing accessibility experts during the product development process ensures that we can confidently meet these criteria. Accessibility should be part of a systematic plan that is included at the beginning of the process.

6.How would you summarize your experience with the British Council in three words?

Innovative, thought-provoking, perspective.