[FORUM]Accommodations for the disabled

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[FORUM]Accommodations for the disabled

How on earth do the blind play golf?

Recently I read a report in the Korean language JoongAng Ilbo by the newspaper's New York correspondent, Shin Joong-don. The subject was the attention given to accommodations for the handicapped in America.

When a blind person goes golfing in the United States, he can take his time and will not be pressed by other golfers. Golf courses that accommodate blind players will leave a gap before and after the blind player's group, so that he can take practice swings to his heart's content, measuring the angle and distance through advice given to him by his playing companions or caddie.

According to the report, there are traffic signs in some residential areas that read "Deaf child area." That alerts drivers to the presence of a child who will not be able to hear a driver's horn and tells them to pay special attention to children in the area. Overall, America takes good care of its disabled citizens. I can feel the atmosphere of happy coexistence between the disabled and able.

There is little comparison with the situation in Korea; our society is not a good place for the disabled to survive. When they go out, they are automatically exposed to many dangers; the streets here are battlefields. They are also discriminated against in education and employment.

But once in a while, I come across evidence of a "beautiful mind" full of consideration for the disabled that makes me feel optimistic about finding rays of hope and happiness even in misfortune.

On a promenade in Namsan in central Seoul, azaleas, golden bells and cherry blossoms are in full bloom.

The promenade is thronged with strollers and joggers bustling hither and yon. On the walkway, you can often find blind persons strolling with white canes in peace and quiet. What makes that promenade a "paradise of the blind?" The answer is the beautiful mind that thought through what was necessary for the disabled to be comfortable.

Around the entrance and along the promenade, you can see several guide boards written in braille. The posts are waist-high, making it easy for the blind to read them. There is a raised barrier along the drainage ditch at the side of the road and handrails to prevent accidental falls. At one entrance to the promenade is a series of handicapped-only parking spaces.

It was indeed a beautiful mind that made all these accommodations for the blind.

Last spring, newspapers wrote about the Samgwang Middle School in Paju, Gyeonggi province, where restrooms and entrances were renovated to accommodate its first disabled student. Four other schools have now followed Samgwang's example and the Ministry of Health and Welfare encouraged the five schools by presenting them with sign boards which read "school of love." But we still have a long way to go.

A handicapped-rights civic group has been struggling for accommodations in public transportation for several years, but with little effect. Without access to public transportation, the disabled cannot study or work. They have demanded modified public buses and the installation of elevators in subway stations for the handicapped. But the ministries responsible for those facilities have not responded; they just say that the other ministry is to blame. Only a few districts in Seoul plan to buy buses for the disabled. Even though about 200,000 persons responded to the appeal to sign a petition for more access for the disabled to public transportation.

Official statistics say there are 1.45 million disabled persons in Korea, but unofficial figures have put the number at about 4 million. The handicapped complain continually and vocally that Korea is "a prison without bars."

Most of you, happily, are not among the ranks of the disabled. But there is one sobering thought to remember. About 95 percent of the disabled persons in Korea were not born that way; they became disabled as a result of injury or illness in their childhood or as an adult. A normal and healthy person could easily be disabled someday, through an unexpected accident or illness.

April 20 is the Day of the Disabled. "A beautiful day for beautiful minds" is just around the corner.


The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Han Cheon-soo

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