Al Jazeera World

Seeing Isn’t Everything: Living Blind in Turkey

Four blind people living in Istanbul challenge social perceptions about what it means to live without sight.

Filmmaker: Eylem Kaftan

Nearly halfamillion blind people live in Turkey. 

While attitudes are gradually changing in Turkey, awareness of blindness tends to lag behind awareness and understanding of disability in some other parts of the world.

In Seeing Isn’t Everything, four blind people living in Istanbul talk about how they are all too often defined through their disability and want to challenge social perceptions about what it means to live without sight in Turkey.

These days, people who live with their five senses get most of their knowledge by seeing. But for us, hearing is our seeing. Our main source of knowledge is sound. It's our main connection with life.

by Devrim Tarim

Devrim Tarim has been blind since childhood and describes the prejudice against the blind in Turkey as “a class problem”.

He now aspires to be the first blind filmmaker in Turkeybut the injuries he sustained in a serious car accident have undermined his fragile confidence on the streets of a sometimes chaotic city. “Istanbul is a jungle for the blind”, he says.

Nihal Polat is 39 and three of the six children in her family were born blind. Rejected by mainstream Turkish education, her uncle managed to place her into a school for the blind. She then went on to study psychology and now works as an educational psychologist in a primary school. She has married someone she was at school with years ago. He is now a lawyer but he struggles to recruit clients because of the public perception of the abilities of the blind.

Burcak Souoglu lost her sight aged four and is now a single mother after her husband left her with two children. She works on the switchboard at Marmara University. She lacks confidence out on the often frenetic streets of Istanbulbut as a devoted mother derives immense satisfaction from raising her two children.

Burcak’s younger sister, Gamze, has five percent of her sight. “I can distinguish big objects…and also the main colours… When you’re a teenager you take your physical appearance very seriously…but you don’t know what you look like,” she says. Still Gamze, like the other three characters in this film, exudes positivity.

“Gaining pleasure from something isn’t always related to seeing. Seeing isn’t everything.”

All four of them share their personal strategies for leading full lives and challenging perceptions about the blind, particularly in Turkey.


By Eylem Kaftan

My inspiration for this film, which follows the daily lives of four blind people living in Istanbul, was one of the characters, an old friend called Devrim Tarim. He’s been blind since early childhood but his disability has never stopped him from dreaming and fulfilling his potential in life.

After graduating from one of the best universities in Turkey, he now has a dream to become the first blind filmmaker in Turkey. His dream inspired me to make this film.

The other characters are Gamze, Burcak, and Nihal. Gamze Sofuolu is a psychology student and another well-accomplished young woman for whom the skys the limit. She travelled to Europe with two other blind friends and is amused by the fact that they climbed to the top of the Eiffel Tower and experienced Paris without “seeing” it but by “breathing its air”.

Gamze’s elder sister,  Burcak, wasn’t as lucky as Gamze. Her family was inexperienced when it came to caring for someone with a disability and it took time for them to learn. As a result, Burcak lacks the confidence to go outside on her ownbut shes achieved something she feels more important. Shes a single, working mother who is raising two children. My fourth character, Nihal, has found the love of her life and now works as a school psychologist.

As I delved deeper into the world of the blind, I began to realise more and more that we live in a “sight-centered world” thats not easy to challenge.

Through this film, I wanted to open a window into one of the most neglected minorities in Turkey, the blind, who are considered almost “invisible” in society. The chaotic cities and traffic, uneven pavements, open sewers and unexpected obstacles in public spaces all make being outside dangerous for the blind and difficult for them to be genuinely mobile.

Last year, Devrim was hit by a car as he was crossing the street and broke his arm and leg. The driver didn’t pay for his hospital expenses. After his accident, its become harder for Devrim to walk the streets because he worries the same thing will happen again. Despite his accident, Devrim refuses to give up and continues to follow his dream. For people like him, being independent is crucial to preserving their self-confidencebut its often hard to maintain that independence in a city like Istanbul.

Films about blind people in Turkey and elsewhere are rare. I hope that through Seeing Isn’t Everything, audiences will empathise with the blind people of Turkey and look at them with greater sense of awareness. I also hope that audiences will understand the problems associated with blindness but will also see blind people as individuals with lives and challenges of their own.

In a world built around sight, the blind leading self-sufficient lives are, in fact, heroes. Theyve found creative, constructive, and positive ways to lead their lives. Had they been able to see, maybe they would have been ordinary. The characters in this film are inspiring people whove found success. As Ive got to know them more intimately, Ive learned that blind people hate pity disguised as compassion. What they actually want is to be appreciated for their own achievements.