Dean uses seeing-eye dog to make a point
“There is no precedent for a visually handicapped person to represent Korea at an official UN conference. And I will be the first to be accompanied by a seeing-eye dog,” Mr. Lee said a week ago, before his departure to attend the conference, which began Monday at the UN headquarters in New York. Pado sat beside him during the 13-hour flight and escorted him to the conference room, hotel and restaurants.
“I decided to take Pado to show how important it is for visually handicapped people to have the right to walk freely,” Mr. Lee said. “Other representatives may realize how critical it is to protect the rights of the disabled by seeing us.”
The committee, created in 2002, aims to enact the convention this September. If it is passed in committee, each country’s government will have to ratify the convention that provides legal protection of equality, rights for movement and opportunities to the disabled.
“Koreans generally have warmer feelings toward the disabled than those of other countries. If there is more legal protection, Korea will become a developed nation in terms of policies toward the disabled,” Mr. Lee said.
Mr. Lee said there is still room for improvement ― he adopted the dog in July 2004, but not every place is accessible yet. “I could not forget the sense of freedom I felt the first time I went out with Pado. It was very refreshing. Visually disabled persons always feel that they are bound by something because they need another person’s help to get around. More seeing-eye dogs need to be distributed.”
Pado accompanies Mr. Lee twice a week during work days depending on his schedule. On weekends he takes a walk or exercises with the dog.
While he was in primary school, Mr. Lee suffered from retinitis and began losing his sight ― he completely lost his vision when he was 15 years old. He said he agonized a lot over discrimination against the disabled he came across.
“I didn’t choose this disability and anyone can become disabled,” Mr. Lee said. “I thought people are just inconsiderate. But my mother always encouraged me and said, ‘You can make it,’ and I so could pull myself together again.”
Mr. Lee graduated from the College of Theology at Yonsei University and received a master’s degree in social work from the University of Pittsburgh and a doctoral degree in social welfare policy study from the University of Chicago. He was appointed a professor by Yonsei University in 1994 and became the dean of the Yonsei School of Social Welfare. He is also the chairman of the Korea Academy for Disability and Welfare.
by Shin Ye-ri