Living with dignityKorea is an underdeveloped country. It seems like an advanced country in terms of economy, since the national per capita income exceeded $20,000 last year. But when it comes to welfare for people with disabilities, Korea is lagging behind others.
Some 10 million people live in Seoul, but disabled people are seldom seen in public. As of last year, the number of registered people with a disability was more than 2 million, yet we rarely see this group of people on the streets — it is too hard for them to travel around our cities.
A study on accessibility in 25 district offices in Seoul released by the Korea Blind Union proves this. These offices have an average 56.1 percent of the facilities or equipment for people with disabilities required by law for improving access. But why only half of the facilities?
For instance, if signs in Braille are posted sporadically through the city, how can someone with impaired vision negotiate the streets? They can get from A to B, but they might not reach C.
People with disabilities in Korea also have to endure financial hardship. According to a study by the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs, 28.1 percent of their incomes are lower than the minimum cost of living, even when their assets were factored in.
This is four times higher than for people without disabilities. Among nondisabled people, 7.3 percent have incomes lower than the minimum cost of living.
What’s more, subsidies for disabled people account for merely 0.15 percent of the gross domestic product, as of 2005. That is very little, especially compared with other member countries of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development. In other member countries, 3 to 5 percent of the gross domestic product is channeled into helping people with disabilities.
But there is hope. A law on discrimination against disabled people came into effect in April this year. Not offering accessibility to disabled people was categorized as discrimination, a meaningful step forward from other existing laws.
Tomorrow is Disability Awareness Day. President Lee Myung-bak said the new administration will build a country in which there is no discrimination against disabled people. The government and the people have to work hard to make his word come true.
Korea can become an advanced country only when people with disabilities can live with dignity.