Living With the Physically Challenged

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Living With the Physically Challenged

In France or America physically handicapped people are not an unusual sight. They are everywhere - on the street, in the subway, at school, in the park, at work, and in the supermarket. They have normal lives like everyone else.

However, when it comes to Korea, it is a different story. You do not see them very often. Is it because there are fewere physically handicapped people in Korea than in other nations? No! Like other countries, 2-10 percent of the population in Korea is physically or mentally handicapped.

The reason that we do not encounter them easily is very simple. There are no facilities or services to help them lead normal lives like everyone else. Moreover, we have no consideration for this sector of the population, and there is an overall lack of social understanding toward this group of people.

The physically challenged cannot use their wheelchairs on the street and cannot go anywhere alone by bus or subway. There are a few schools that accept them, but there are no necessary facilities such as ramps, elevators, restrooms, and so on. Also, public institutions or firms do not employ enough of them. Therefore, the physically challenged have no choice but to stay home, or, at the very least, their range of movement is extremely limited. It seems they do not exist or they live segregated lives amongst themselves. Even physically challenged students have to go to special schools.

In France, physically challenged students have the legal right to attend regular school as long as they prove their mental ability to do the same work. They can ride their wheelchairs into classrooms, restrooms, swimming pools, cafeterias, libraries, and playgrounds. French libraries possess many books in braille, and there are students who take notes for those who suffer cerebral infantile paralysis.

In order to help the physically challenged attend school, there are special transportation services. Even in supermarkets, there are facilities and people to assist them so that they can purchase the things they need without any difficulty.

Today is the official day for the physically handicapped. The most important thing we all have to do for them at school, in everyday life, and at work is create public facilities and support systems that can help them lead normal lives. It is going to cost a lot, will require a lot of effort on our part. Nevertheless, this is a must. The prime reason behind this is we could all become physically challenged. At the end of last year, there were 1.35 million people registered as physically handicapped, 89 percent of which resulted from postnatal accidents.

However, a more important reason is that so-called normal children can learn to live with physically handicapped children without teasing or mocking them, and they will eventually have better understanding towards each other.

Those who live with the physically handicapped from their childhood on have more tolerance toward differences in others, and can build stronger relationships with others. This is the first step toward building a society in which humans can live peacefully with each other.

Although it might be difficult to build this kind of society, we have to make the effort together - 'normal' and physically handicapped people alike. Let us begin this good work today.

Mr.Jung is a professor at Hanyang University Department of Education

by Jung Jin-kon

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