[LETTERS TO THE EDITOR]Where are the handicapped?

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[LETTERS TO THE EDITOR]Where are the handicapped?

Last year, I had an opportunity to study business administration in Canada for a year. At the beginning of my life there, what most surprised me was the number of physically challenged people everywhere. I wondered what was wrong with Canada, a developed country and a member of G8?
Before long, I came to regret this hasty reaction. One day, sitting at a bus stop, the idea hit me that there was nothing wrong with Canada. I saw physically challenged people wherever I went, not because there were so many, but because in Canada, the physically handicapped can very easily use public transportation.
I realized that we probably have a lot more physically handicapped people in Korea, but that I’ve hardly ever seen them because they don’t (actually, cannot) go out, since the poor condition of transportation in Korea excludes the physically challenged from its use.
Though I had never thought about the issue before my Canadian experience, I realized then that we desperately need to improve the transportation system for the physically challenged in Korea. At that time, I also heard about a plan to improve the public transportation system in Seoul, and I thought it would mean that the physically challenged would be able to use public transportation more conveniently.
However, I was very disappointed when I came back to Korea. Contrary to my expectation, I found that the city of Seoul had only changed the bus routes, fares, numbers and colors!
The “improvements” included no consideration for the physically handicapped at all. The buses still had three steps at the front and rear doors, and the bus floors were 80 centimeters from the ground. It was still a challenge to stand in a terribly swaying bus.
Even worse, subway stations still had hundreds of steps and, in many cases, no elevators. At subway stations, the handicapped had only two choices: take a wheelchair lift with no safety device (moving slower than a snail’s pace) or go back home. In this “incredibly improved” transport situation, if I were physically handicapped, that’s what I would do: stay home.
To make this situation better, I think we can get some good ideas by looking at the public transportation system of Canada. There, people respect physically handicapped people’s rights. In particular, the transportation system is carefully designed for them. The buses have no steps; the bus floor is about 10-15 centimeters from the ground, so the aged and the physically handicapped can get on and off very easily.
Also, every bus has a board at the bottom of its front door that folds and unfolds automatically to help people who use wheelchairs. Lastly, each bus can hold three wheelchairs, with safety devices that keep them from swaying. And the stop button is at wheelchair level.
These things enable physically handicapped people to go wherever they want and to do whatever they like. In the cafeteria, they often enjoyed a cup of coffee next to me. And when I was jogging along the lake, enjoying the beautiful sunset, they were taking in the air with their dogs! But in Korea this morning, I didn’t see any physically challenged people on the bus or the subway. Of course, there were none on the street, at the bookstore or in the cafeteria, either.
I want to ask you one question: Where do you think the 700,000 Korean physically handicapped people are? We shouldn’t leave them to live a lonely, dead life in their rooms. Instead, they can live fuller lives as members of society. I believe that we all want them to live happy lives. Improving the public transportation system will help make our wishes come true.

by Lim Woo-sun
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