A little compassion goes a long way
The author is a Tokyo correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
A small girl stood out to me when I attended a Parent’s Day event at my daughter’s day care center. Due to a disability, she is not able to stand on her own. She spent most of the time either seated or in the arms of her teachers.
But she behaved no different from any ordinary 3-year old. She laughed and whined time to time like the rest of them. She took strolls, ate lunch and performed on stage with the others.
I was ashamed to find her extraordinary. No one in the classroom treated her any different. Teachers carried her around without any show of discomfort and made sure she mingled among her classmates without any trouble. My daughter never spoke of her being different. The girl was absorbed into the classroom and others took care of her as if it was perfectly normal.
I read a Korean news article that reported that a day care center in Korea denied a child because she had diabetes. Even though the center was as a big facility that could accommodate 270 kids and had a full-time nurse, the facility said it would only accept her if she got her shots at home, ate lunch at home and did not take part in outside activities. This discrimination is more or less a rejection.
The day care center in Korea may have had the interest of the child at heart for her own safety, given her fragile condition. But it is sad that a kid and her parents had to face such harsh barriers from such a tender age. The comments on the article mostly supported the day care center, as other children could be neglected if the nurses were too preoccupied with the fragile child. Others advised the parent to keep their kid at home. Most of the comments were selfish opinions.
In Tokyo, day care centers give priority to accepting children with minor disabilities. Each center must have a licensed nurse. There are fewer teachers per child in day care centers compared to Korea, but the government provides subsidies for extra caretakers to centers that admit a disabled child.
The child with disabilities at my daughter’s day care center is not any different. She could be anyone I meet on the subway in a wheelchair or someone with a cane. She could be my child — or even me. Systems must change.
But before that, our behaviors must change through compassion and understanding for others. These behaviors must come from our hearts, not our heads.