In the six years since wheelchair user Alan Askin came to live in Fethiye, he has become an inspirational figure for everyone he meets. In a conversation with Fethiye Times he explained what made him choose to live in Turkey. He also describes how life is changing in Fethiye and Muğla for people who use wheelchairs and the encouragement he gives to and receives from everyone around him, who are with or without disability.
Last Saturday (3rd December) was United Nations International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD). On Friday, Fethiye municipality held events focusing on how the needs of people with disabilities can best be met.
Making Muğla disability friendly
The theme continued over the weekend and during a speech in Muğla the Provincial Governor, Amir Çiçek, announced that it was his intention to make the entire Muğla region disability friendly.
Alan Askin, who plays an active role in the community, took part in these activities and says he welcomes everything that has already been done to make life better for wheelchair users:
“Like other wheel chair users in the area, I am pretty impressed by what has already been achieved but am really looking forward to benefitting from the future developments Mr Çiçek announced.”
Why live in Fethiye?
But why did Alan choose to live in Fethiye and and how did he become so actively involved in the Fethiye and Muğla communities?
“I did everything I could to continue being active but the weather was a big problem. I wasn’t going to let my disability stop me but the weather in Northern Ireland, lots of rain and often cold, made it very difficult for me and limited what I could safely achieve.”
Alan and his wife Oonagh first came to the Fethiye area of Turkey in 2008. They stayed in Ölüdeniz and were immediately impressed by the beauty of the region, its accessibility and, of course, the weather.
“While we were on holiday in Ölüdeniz, we heard about Çalış, another district of Fethiye further along the coast. It sounded ideal for a wheelchair user like me. It has a long, broad beach and a wide, flat promenade, which we are told will eventually link up with the one in Fethiye. Basically, Çalış is a flat coastal area with an expanding residential area. There’s plenty of accommodation that can be adapted for people who use wheelchairs. On a more serious note, the area has an extensive range of medical care too. We had a look, were pleased with what we saw, and pretty much there and then decided to make Fethiye our home.”
Alan and Oonagh finally came to live in Fethiye in 2010 and in the years since then, it is no exaggeration to say that Alan has become a ‘cultural ambassador’ and an inspiration for people with and without disability in the area. Remarkably fit and healthy by any standard, at 52 years old, he is often seen in the town, either using his wheel chair or his hand bike (recumbent bike – see headline photo).
Alan also makes the most of the many advances that have been made in the region to improve mobility access:
“Just recently for example, I visited a beach in Datça that has specially adapted access ramp for wheelchair users. I was told that there is also a wheelchair with special wheels for those who cannot get into the water under their own steam.”
Alan has joined the local paravolleyball team, which has a busy fixtures list that takes him and the rest of the team all over Turkey to play in matches.
When not playing in this highly competitive sport, he uses his recumbent bike to go on road trips, making the most of the bike-friendly hard shoulders, and has also been known to head off along off-road tracks as well, when the mood takes him.
But Alan isn’t limited to travelling around Fethiye, or even Muğla, in his wheelchair or hand bike. With the adapted car he bought in turkey, he is also able to explore parts of Turkey that are much further afield.
Active member of the community
Alan explains, “I am very closely involved with the local disability associations in Fethiye and Muğla. They really are a great bunch of people and are truly inspirational….and it’s clear that with mutual support, changes in thinking and attitudes towards disability, wheelchair users are becoming more independent and adventurous.”
Muğla: inclusive and welcoming for wheelchair users
On Saturday Alan and the rest of the mixed Fethiye paravolleyball team travelled to Muğla to celebrate World Disability Day. While there they played an exhibition paravoleybol match against the city’s women’s able-bodied volleyball team, which Fethiye won 20-25. After the match the paravoleybol team were invited to Akyaka the following morning, to have breakfast with the Governor of Muğla and the Mayor of Muğla.
“It was a great weekend,” said Alan, “and one in which I was proud to participate. When I looks at how life for wheelchair users has changed even in the short time since I arrived in Turkey, it is clear that the region is a place where wheelchair users can live comfortably.
In Muğla, life is becoming increasingly inclusive for wheel chair users, as well as those with other disabilities. With Amir Çiçek’s positive and proactive message to make Muğla disability friendly and the wonderful Mediterranean weather, I wouldn’t be surprised if I am joined by other northern European wheelchair users, who want to make the most of life by living this remarkable part of the world.”