April 20 is designated the Day of People with Disabilities in Korea, which reminded me of the frequent contact I had with people with disabilities as I was growing up. My grandfather became visually impaired as he got older. I remember I used to push him in his wheelchair when I was 16.
I thought it was only natural to be around people with disabilities. In my high school, there was a student who used a wheelchair. It was not easy to use the elevator at school, so my friends and I carried him to different floors almost every day. At my church, people with disabilities from a nearby care facility attended the service and sang hymns together. The staff at the facility treated them in the same way as they treated all other people. They joked around and played together.
Until 1950, however, people with disabilities were not accepted as equal members of society. After the 1960s, Germany grew stronger economically and Germans came to have awareness that people with disabilities should not be excluded and should be provided with a welfare system.
Caritas, a Catholic relief and social service organization, has set guidelines for the welfare of the disabled: All people with disabilities should be given a chance to participate in society and should be provided with a system to take responsibility for their lives and receive help when needed. There should be social awareness that they too are citizens with equal rights and that no discrimination should ever be tolerated.
When I came to Korea, I was impressed by the care facilities and the priority seats for the disabled, elderly and pregnant women on the subway. Rather than setting aside separate seats for them, Germans rely on people to give up these seats to those in need.
Welfare for people with disabilities is progressing in both Korea and Germany. But what we need most desperately is to open up awareness of people with disabilities. People without disabilities should have contact with their peers who have disabilities and be given a chance to understand that everyone is the same.
The exposure will eliminate discrimination in the end. I hope to see an environment where people don’t think the lives of the disabled are not relevant to their lives, but encourage each other for a harmonious future.
The author is a TV personality from Germany who appears on the JTBC talk show “Non-Summit.”
JoongAng Ilbo, April 23, Page 32
by DANIEL LINDEMANN