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Living with Disability in Korea

It is the UN International Day of People with Disabilities on December 3. This day is important for raising awareness of all disabilities, and enforces the idea of encouraging disabled people the world over to secure their rights. In Korea, disabled not only find it difficult at times to receive basic provisions such as food, clothing and shelter, but are also unable to use public transportation freely, and in addition may be unable to evacuate a building or area in the event of a disaster. Moreover, disabled people often feel that they have less access to higher education.

 

Living with Disability in Korean Society

Korea’s current laws guarantee basic rights for all people of the nation. However, the reality can be quite different, with disabled people often not being treated equally in areas such as education, employment, medical care, insurance, marriage, etc. There seems to be no end to the discrimination. Let me quote you some figures. The activity rate of disabled people is 39.6%, and among those who are hired, the temporary position rate was 58.5% in 2015. Their average monthly wage was 390,420 won (based on those who work 33 hours a week); in other words, they do not even receive the minimum wage. 

Though minimum wage legislation is supposed to be applied to every worker, the ‘application system for minimum wage exclusion’ allows employers to pay lower wages to ‘people who have decreased working ability due to disability’. The authorisation ratio in regard to this application system was 98.9% in 2015, meaning that almost all applications from employers were approval.

In the case of transportation, disabled people can also face incredible difficulty. Unlike the city bus or railroads, barrier-free inter-city express busses are not thoroughgoing enough. Some wheelchair users have declared that it should be their right to ride the bus, publicising the issue. Last year, the government planned to increase low-floor busses by 32.2% (to 10,473), but the actual increase was 20.7% (just 6,751).

The issue of being able to escape from dangerous situations and disasters is also one which can particularly affect disabled people. For example, when a large earthquake hit Korea last September, blind people were unable to know whether an earthquake had actually occurred, and those with physical disabilities preventing them from being able to use stairs were only able to wait in their shaking homes in fear while non-disabled evacuated to safe and open spaces. Even after the earthquake, people still didn’t recognise how the disabled had been neglected during the event. Only one media source pointed out the lack of national provision for the evacuation of disabled people. Although more than 400 aftershocks have occurred since the earthquake on September 12, an evacuation guide for disabled people hasn’t been uploaded to the website of the Ministry of Public Safety and Security. Eventually, a member of public created an ‘earthquake preparedness guide for the disabled’, which was published by the Earthquake Country Alliance. It is the only Korean resource on this topic.

 

 

The Difficulties Faced by Disabled People in Korea’s Education System

You might wonder how students with disabilities are treated in Korea. Of course, disabled students should be guaranteed the same education rights as non-disabled students. After a long struggle for disabled students and their parents, special education laws for persons with disabilities were enacted in 2008. It extended the range of compulsory education from elementary school and middle-school to preschool and high school in 2010. However, some education institutions have still refused the admission of disabled students, while numerous institutions don’t have proper facilities due to insufficient government supervision and management. For these reasons, disabled students face increased difficulties in trying to gain admission to university, as well as at university if successfully admitted. The percentage of disabled students in Korea is minuscule. In 2014, the number of disabled students attending Inha University totalled 15 out of 18,000 students (approximately 0.08%).

Admission to University

According to research on special education, conducted every three years by the Ministry of Education Science, and Technology, the percentages of disabled students who expressed a desire to go to university were 42.8% (17,525) in 2011 and 42.4% (19,143) in 2014. It means that many disabled people hope to attend university, especially given that the second preference after leaving high school was to gain work experience (about 20% of respondents). General societal expectations regarding disabled students are often quite different though. The type occupation for which disabled people are usually considered are low-skilled, as they often haven’t had the opportunity to enter into higher education.

At University

Even if a disabled person is successfully admitted to a university, problems persist. Some students take classes that do not provide suitable teaching materials or assistance for learning. In fact, many higher education institutions lack adequate provision for disabled students. In research conducted in 2014 by the Korea National Institute for Special Education titled ‘The Current Status of Educational Services for University Students with Disabilities', of all 368 universities nationwide, 54.3% (200 universities) were evaluated as ‘requiring improvements’ regarding provisions for disabled people, while 6% (22 universities) were evaluated as meeting the necessary requirements. Thus, it is perhaps unsurprising that the university entrance rate of disabled people  is so low.

Problems for disabled university students usually continue after graduation. Many businesses would rather pay fines than hire disabled people. The number of Korean businesses which practice the ‘employment quota system’ is just 22 of the top 100. Korean businesses are responsible for failing to employ 19,290 of the 32,025 quota of disabled people. Though some small steps to encourage fairer competition between disabled and non-disabled people has occurred regarding civil service and teacher training examinations, inequality still exists. For example, Jang, who suffers with brain lesions and passed her primary examination with excellent results, had an interview without proper assistance. In the interview, she didn’t receive any assistance for her disability, such as time a extension or the option of ‘ACC’ (Augmentative and Alternative Communication). The interviewers didn’t understand what she said, but didn’t ask again. In the end she failed the interview and her interview score was 0 out of 40. Such hardships for disabled people are commonplace.

 

The Global Picture of Education for Disabled People

In terms of caring for the disabled, Korea is still far behind the progress that has been made by many other countries. Developed countries have protections and guarantees for disabled people which are not only written in law but culturally ingrained. In the US, for example, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)  makes it clear that schools have a duty to educate children with disabilities in mainstream classrooms and guarantees proper additional services for the severely disabled. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a US labour law that prohibits unjustified discrimination based on disability. The ADA also requires employers to provide a suitable working environment for employees with disabilities, imposing accessibility requirements among others. Aside from the ADA legally guaranteeing proper access to all public buildings and accommodation, it makes support for disabled people in US universities a legal obligation.

Konstskolan LINNEA’s School of Art in Sweden provides post-secondary supplementary education for people with learning disabilities. Students are supported by the LSS-law of Sweden for people with learning disabilities. The school receives grants for each disabled student, with 50% of the required funding for the support of these students coming from the state and local authorities.

In October, a woman with Down’s syndrome became a preschool teacher in Argentina. In the face of prejudice, she became the first person with Down’s syndrome to work as a preschool teacher in Argentina and one of very few in the world. In the face of prejudice, she is the first person with Down syndrome to work as a preschool teacher in Argentina – and one of the few in the world.When she was a child, a nursery school called her a ‘monster’, but now she has a class of her own. Her case set a precedent after the school confronted the taboo of making a person with a cognitive syndrome responsible for the care and education of a children, challenging prejudice against such individuals in a radical manner.

 

Governments around the world must protect and respect the rights of all individuals, including people with disabilities. Equal education rights are essential for delivering the fair treatment and opportunities that every human being deserves.

이지은  dlwldms0014@gmail.com

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