[VIEWPOINT]Mobility not only goal of disabled

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[VIEWPOINT]Mobility not only goal of disabled

Some time ago I saw a disturbing story on television. A subway train sat without moving because several people with disabilities were lying on the track. Their eyes were closed tightly, as if they were preparing for death, and they looked desperate. A reporter finally approached a man sitting in a wheelchair. "We have to be able to get around places in order to live," the man told the reporter in a high-pitched voice. "Only when we have the means to travel can we earn a living, love and marry."

The television report was about people with disabilities demanding the right to freely move to and fro; it came after the death of a physically challenged person in a subway lift. The program ended with the commentator saying, "I hope that people with disabilities do not lose hope, that they gain courage and live happy lives."

The words "hope" and "happy" seemed terribly out of place in a situation where people were prepared to fight to their deaths for the freedom of access to public transportation.

The fact that someone has to move about to love is nothing new. Human beings do not live dormant existences, like rocks and trees. In order to have access to love, to hope and to be happy -- basic human needs -- one must have access to a means that will allow him to socialize.

I, too, once longed for more freedom to move around. From middle school through graduate school, taxis were my sole means of transportation. In elementary school, my transportation was a piggyback ride, courtesy of my mother. But starting in middle school, there was no way for me, who had to use crutches, to maneuver in crowded public buses. To save on cab fare, my family moved every time I changed schools. But as the saying goes, people are compassionate as long as they have enough rice. Taxi drivers have never been the most polite people. Some drivers refused to take me because where I wanted to go was too short a distance. Some would just drive off, irritated that I was taking too long to get into the cab. When I would ask them to please turn down a small alley to reach my house, some drivers yelled that I was being picky. Nevertheless, my mother and I considered it lucky when we were able to catch a cab. When it was winter and snowing, we would stand for several hours in front of my high school in Cheongnyangni, often turning into human snowmen.

From then on, owning a car became my life's dream. I felt that if I could move about I would be able to study as much as I wanted, love as much as I wanted and be truly happy.

So it is with bitter regret that I now recall my childhood dream. But I also realize that some people dare not even dream.

When floods struck Korea last summer, a nightly news report carried a story with this voice-over: "People with disabilities are faring worse than animals." The story reported that 30 or so physically challenged people were living temporarily in an animal hut. Forced from their homes by raging waters, they had nowhere to go.

But the flood victims were once again facing being forced from their homes because the residents in the community did not want them living there. Indeed, the residents said quite clearly that they would rather have animals living in the huts.

"I don't blame them," said one disabled man. "It would have been the same anywhere. Just don't ask us to go farther into the mountains, where we would be completely isolated."

Several decades past my childhood I now enjoy a comfortable life. I have a car that allows me to travel anywhere. I have been able to pursue studies and, had I the intentions, I have all the means to help someone and to show them love. Instead, I speak on the subject of love learned from books, while carefully timing my precious days, balancing my interests and looking down on those who have fewer material goods than me. Sometimes I think I don't possess one iota of love. But then again I think there are a lot of people like me in this world.

* The writer is a professor of English literature at Sogang University.

by Chang Young-hee

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