An investment long overdueAt the Winter Paralympics in Vancouver in March, Korean curling team leader Kim Hak-sung won a silver medal. Kim had his legs injured at work when he was in his early 20s.
Kim Myung-jin, the youngest member of the team, became a person with a disability through a car accident when he was in his late teens.
Seo Borami, who became the first Korean paralympic female athlete to finish the entire cross-country course, was paralyzed from the waist down after she fell down the stairs when she was in high school.
In Korea, the number of people who become disabled due to accidents or diseases is larger than that of those who are born with a disability. That’s why it is hard to ignore the fact that any one of us could become disabled at any time.
Nevertheless, there is still a great deal of prejudice and discrimination toward people with disabilities in Korean society.
Seo even said, “Pushing myself on snowy fields with two hands is much easier than living with a disability in my everyday life.”
Yet they have all overcome obstacles and done their best to concentrate on sports without losing their dreams. They know very well that their lives will lose meaning if they give up hope.
But they face too many stumbling blocks. For example, Choi Young, the first visually impaired person to pass the judicial examination in 2008, had to wait before he could enter the Judicial Research & Training Institute because it didn’t have learning facilities for the disabled.
The headgear that enables SNU Professor Lee Sang-mook to teach his students despite his general paralysis or the electric wheelchair that allows singer Kang Won-rae, who is paralyzed from the waist down, to perform, are just a dream for many people with disabilities.
Devices like these, which could give many people the chance to live independently, are simply too expensive for the average person. While the purchase of these devices is covered by social welfare insurance in other developed countries, people with disabilities who live in Korea have to cover the cost themselves.
Of course, building the infrastructure to help these people will require a lot of money. But if they could live independently and contribute to the development of society, there would be no more meaningful investment than that.
Right now, our spending on programs and services for people with disabilities is the lowest among member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. We must raise the budget. If people with disabilities have to consider emigrating because it’s too difficult to live here, discussions on our country’s integrity are almost meaningless.