My impairment has given me the potential to adapt through all challenges…as long as no one I love is infected by the virus, I consider myself very lucky

Posted on April 7, 2020

Continuing our theme of hope during a time that is clouded by uncertainty, this beautifully written guest blog offers a wonderful insight into the life of a ProjectScotland volunteer.

My name is Güler, which means smile in Turkish. I have come over to Edinburgh from France, my other home country, through the European Solidarity Corps (ESC). The ESC is a European initiative offering young people an opportunity to volunteer abroad in projects responding to societal challenges.

I am volunteering within ProjectScotland in order to develop guidelines to overcome the barriers faced by people with disabilities to access volunteering projects. Our project aims to help charities accommodate access needs and to help disabled people gain the self-confidence to volunteer.

Guler at Edinburgh Castle
Guler is pictured outside Edinburgh Castle in early 2020

Despite the current pandemic, I have not considered going back home earlier and I am lucky ProjectScotland is still able to host me. Being in lockdown obviously requires working remotely, but my team mates are with me and I have made some great friends here so I am not feeling lonely in Edinburgh. We are communicating with partner charities over Zoom, instead of visiting them all over the country, and I can still go outside to walk my guide dog.

Having a visual impairment myself, as well as a passion for social commitment, I have been advocating in order to make the world a more inclusive place to live. Too often we think people with disabilities are always in need of help, and not the other way around. This is a wrong assumption which continuously places disabled people at a disadvantage.

I started volunteering when I was a teenager, by supporting a museum centred around the Holocaust to adapt an exhibition called “Lyon under bombardment” for people with visual impairments. The photos were transcribed and a braille description was added next to each of them.

Once I started my law degree, I decided to volunteer abroad. Back then, my best friend was both French and Peruvian, so we decided to spend a summer in her home country to create a massage center for professional therapists with a visual impairment. The aim was to significantly improve their working conditions and autonomy. Without this place to work they had to go to patients’ houses to perform their work.

Carrying a massage table all day long is not an easy thing and in Northern Peru, roads are damaged and traffic is quite unsafe. This project fully realised my vision of a
solidarity commitment where beneficiaries are actually recognised to be the main actors and we are simply there to support them.

After completing my law degree, and before starting an MA both in Human Rights and Conflict Resolution in Costa Rica, I went to the Fiji Islands to volunteer in an animal shelter for a few months, but since I was on my own I faced many barriers for orientation.

Getting settled in a new place is challenging for everyone, but for a visually impaired person it requires additional orientation and mobility training. In some developing countries, such training does not even exist because people with disabilities do not often go out alone, and even when such a thing exists in more developed
countries, waiting lists are too long and native applicants are of course prioritised.

After completing my MA and volunteering for a year in a peace building project located between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, I came back to France and passed the bar exams. When I saw the results, I could not believe I had become an advocate! And I guess that was one of the best days of my existence. But before making my way into criminal court and wearing the black robe, I decided to take another year off to do more voluntary work. And fortunately I saw the advertisement for this project in Edinburgh on the ESC Facebook page.

It was about creating resources to make volunteering in Scotland more inclusive. I immediately felt it was designed for me. People with any kind of impairments should be comfortable volunteering with others without facing any barriers, which requires challenging attitudes: something I have done throughout my whole life so far.

My impairment has provided life-long training for a lockdown situation because despite being a traveller and a marathon runner, there are many days where I cannot go for a walk when I would like. It is the case when I first arrive in a new country, or when the lack of accessibility or energy discourages me from exiting my door. So not only during the lockdown but every day, I do not have the same rights as others accessing streets, leisure places, gyms, shops, beaches, goods, services.

That is why I did not feel shaken up by the lockdown. My impairment has given me the potential to adapt through all challenges, because daily I am experiencing stressful situations provoked by society, which requires building resilience and being more connected to my inner self. As long as no one I love is infected by the virus, I consider myself very lucky.