[Viewpoint] A vision for the blind

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[Viewpoint] A vision for the blind

She lost her vision at the age of 21. Suffering from encephalomeningitis, she hovered between life and death.When she awoke after a week she couldn’t see anything - literally, she was left in the dark. She cried and screamed fanatically, but her new reality did not change. She enrolled in a special school for the blind and learned living skills and massage techniques. Upon graduation, she found a job as a massage therapist. She was full of hopes when she started working, but her first gig she remembered as a horrifying experience. Male customers were often drunk and harassed her. A life without vision was fear itself. She would cry every day, and other therapists blamed her for being picky. Then she realized that while people with no handicap live in the light and dream about the future, those born with a disability learn to give up and compromise.

One day, she started to distinguish strange energies at the tips of her fingers. She did not know what it was, but she was curious to find out more about the mystery of the human body. She wanted to learn from teachers, but no one could provide systematic instruction. She set up a massage center and awakened herself by communicating with the patients. 20 years have passed, and it is impossible to get an appointment at her massage center.

However, because her business is categorized as a massage shop, she often gets phone calls inquiring about illicit sexual services. So she has enrolled in an online college. Once she earns a diploma in physical therapy, she hopes to teach the techniques to the blind and develop their skills as physical therapists. If they become physical therapists, they will no longer be looked down upon. Also, a professional goal would encourage the visually impaired.

I feel lucky to be a friend of hers. Long ago, I watched a movie on television about a professional New York woman taking a vacation at a resort. A blind massage therapist tells her he could feel how tired she was from her shoulder muscles. She leaves her successful yet loquacious boyfriend for the massage therapist. She was fortunate to find someone who could loosen her knotted muscles, and the same fortune came to me.

I came to understand her vision and dream. In Korea, only the blind may obtain massage therapist licenses. There are over 8,000 licensed therapists, and they mostly get jobs at massage shops or start their own businesses. Lately, the government has started a project to send massage therapists to senior centers, a temporary position that pays 1 million won per month. While the blind get to have a therapist license, they have little options for professional development. No theoretical system for technique enrichment is available, and there are not many learning opportunities to enhance or transfer the skills.

Since massage therapy is monopolized by the blind, nonblind people with talents and interests cannot get into the industry, and not many resources are invested. While the Ministry of Health and Welfare agrees that a more comprehensive review is required as the therapists are under the jurisdiction of the Medical Act, training is overseen by the Ministry of Labor and the Ministry of Welfare is in charge of the employment. When a civil servant is being so vague, it means the government is not willing to address the issue. After all, only 20 percent of the severely disabled are economically active, compared to 61.9 percent in the overall population, and the authorities are already overwhelmed trying to add more jobs.

But a profession is a means of life, and a person has dreams and hopes through a profession. Even for the disabled, a job should be a place to work for the future. The professions of the disabled cannot be developed without the help of the nondisabled.

Theories on the human body should be systematically researched, and practical learning opportunities should be provided. The nondisabled need to help develop and commercialize massage and physical therapy services. A new market will be created through collaboration between those with and without handicaps.

April 20 is People with Disabilities Day. Around this time of the year, crimes against the disabled are cracked down on, and the government announces a new plan for their employment. If this temporary attention is extended further, it may help her make dreams come true.

*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Yang Sun-hee
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