A ‘barrier-free’ Korea

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A ‘barrier-free’ Korea

The author is a reporter on traffic issues of the JoongAng Ilbo.

I was impressed by a sight while hiking on Mount An in the Seodaemun District suburb of Seoul. A convoy of electric wheelchairs moved along the trail. Those in the wheelchairs and volunteers at their sides looked happy, enjoying the clear air and joys of nature. A 7-kilometer (4.3-mile) stretch across the mountain is covered with a wooden deck, allowing easy access to wheelchairs and baby strollers. The “barrier-free” trail discriminates against no one regardless of their age or disability.

The barrier-free concept dates to 1974. It was a movement championing designs for people with mobility problems. It encouraged alternatives to steps, largely through elevators and ramps. The United Nations Committee on Architectural Barrier-Free Design issued a report in that year and since has been promoting universal designs for architectural applications across the world.

The movement spread through advanced countries like the United States and Sweden and removed structural barriers that prohibited access to services for people with disabilities. It helped demolish attitudinal barriers too. Various discriminative barriers have been eliminated as a result.

The concept is important in transportation and traffic as well. Due to the rapid aging of our society, seniors require as much attention as people with disabilities in terms of transportation. The registered number of people with disabilities is now around 2.6 million in Korea, and senior citizens aged 65 and older now exceed 7 million.

Steps are being removed, and buses have lowered their entrances to allow easier climbing and landing. Lifts are being installed in subways. Some express buses have begun installing mini lifts to allow wheelchairs onboard. Big changes are being made. But there is more to be done. People not living with a disability must show more patience and understanding. They must become tolerant of the extra time needed to allow wheelchairs onboard. Such compromises are necessary to build a society for all.
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