A milestone all children should pass
Do you remember the day you first rode a bicycle? After mastering a bike with training wheels, you would get to ride a bike with two wheels. Your father would stand in the back and say, “Don’t worry, I am holding it from behind.” After pedaling a few times, you’d feel insecure all of a sudden and look back to find him watching you with a smile from far behind. Your legs would be shaking and then you’d lose control and fall. But you’d have cleared one of the milestones of childhood.
Twin brothers Sol-min and Sol-jin, 10, from Goyang, Gyeonggi, haven’t had milestones like this. They suffered brain damage due to hypoxia at birth. The damage was less severe for Sol-min, the eldest. He could ride a tricycle when he was younger and has begun to walk on his own with a walker. His steps are still shaky, and he has to take frequent breaks, but he can move by himself. Sol-jin, however, cannot stand up on his own and has to use a wheelchair.
Soon, however, both boys will be able to ride bicycles, thanks to the “My First Bicycle” program offered by the Gyeonggi Assistive Technology Research and Assistive Center. Its engineers remodel and customize bicycles to accommodate various disabilities. It put out a call for applications last year and accepted 50 of 170, including 30 children and 20 adults.
For Sol-min, a device to fix the foot on the pedal and large supplementary wheels were added. For Sol-jin, a more serious modification was necessary. The engineers built a special seat for Sol-jin, who could not spread his legs and moves by crawling. A back support has been added, with harnesses on the chest and the hips. The boys’ mother cried when she saw the bikes, saying, “Sol-jin rode a bicycle! He was so happy that he didn’t want to stop.”
Sol-min’s and Sol-jin’s model bicycles have passed the screening process, and they will receive the bicycles at a ceremony on April 14. The project is sponsored by Mirae Asset’s Park Hyeon-joo Foundation.
But private contributions are not enough. The assistive device industry is still small in Korea, with little systematic support. The United States, Japan and Taiwan have special laws on assistive technology for the disabled, but in Korea, three related bills that are pending in the National Assembly are about to be killed automatically. There are countless people who have disabilities who dream of riding a bicycle. We should find other ways to help them.
by Noh Jae-hyun
* The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.