[EDITORIALS]Disabled need more help

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[EDITORIALS]Disabled need more help

Park Ji-ju is wheelchair-bound. On Friday, the Seoul District Court found the university where she is a student liable for infringement of Ms. Park's right to an education, and ordered the school to pay damages to her.

The ruling may have been a small victory for her personally, but it was also a reminder that our society has neglected to put into practice the new policies the government announces with such fanfare.

The court said the university did not do the minimum necessary to allow disabled students to attend classes. Wheelchair-compatible desks, lecture rooms on the ground floor, removing the threshold at the cafeteria entrance and promoting peer-help programs were some things the court said the school could have done quickly at little expense in money and time.

As part of an effort to embrace the alienated in our society, the Education Ministry introduced in 1995 a voluntary program for universities to accept the physically disabled as special students. But of 194 universities in the country, only about 20 are taking part and even in those schools, the efforts have been far from adequate.

Every person has an equal right to education, but education for the disabled has the added significance of improving the person's chance of finding and holding a job, providing a way to sever the link between disability and poverty. Work gives disabled people the power to become independent and part of the non-handicapped world.

But the disabled lack that opportunity because of university policies and a lack of public transportation for the disabled. There are more than 200,000 people between the ages of 6 and 17 who require accommodations to get an education, but only 50,000 are enrolled in special classes. The plan to accommodate them at regular schools remains a rosy dream. Officially there are 1.45 million disabled people here, but the actual number is closer to 4 million. More than half of them get no more than primary school education.

Last week's ruling must be used to make secondary and college educations more accessible. Society must not turn its back on people who try hard but are frustrated because of the indifference of the people around them.
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