Protect the disabled

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Protect the disabled

Opposition People Power Party (PPP) Chairman Lee Jun-seok has been scorning rotating protests by people with disabilities in subway stations. The rally aimed at delaying on-time departures of subway trains with wheelchairs was led by the Solidarity Against Disability Discrimination (SADD) who call for barrier-free public transit system. Lee’s criticism of the protest as being of an “uncivilized manner” by taking innocent civilians hostage has spread to political circles. As conflict can serve as an engine for social progress in a democracy, solution can be found by politicizing issues. But moderation matters in the process.

Lee’s behavior raises serious questions of whether he can handle his responsibility as chief of the ruling party after President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol is inaugurated. Lee claims the rally will cause inconveniences for residents of the Nowon, Dobong, Gangbuk and Seongbuk area commuting on Subway Line 3 and the Goyang, Eunpyeong, and Seodaemun area.

After stirring a gender conflict during the election, Lee is now drawing lines between people with disabilities and people without and residents of certain regions and other areas. He ridiculed SADD. Does engagement and unity have any meaning to Lee? PPP Rep. Kim Yea-ji, the country’s first visually-impaired lawmaker, rushed to the protest site and kneeled to apologize for a “lack of empathy and inappropriate language” toward the group. Lee is entirely to be blamed.

The group’s demands are rightful. As Seoul mayor in 2002, former president Lee Myung-bak vowed to install elevators for people with disabilities in Seoul subway stations, and in 2015, Mayor Park Won-soon promised all stations would be able to accommodate wheelchairs by 2022. But the promises were not kept. Seoul Metropolitan City promised to raise the rate of elevation installation to 100 percent by 2024 from the current 93 percent after wheelchair protests.

But their protest of delaying departures of subway trains was regretful. Ordinary commuters were affected by the protest. The group claims it had caused delays of just a few minutes, but they were often longer than that. Some citizens even clashed with members of the group.

The controversy has raised attention to the rights of the handicapped. Although traffic law for the weak was enacted 20 years ago, both the liberal and conservative governments failed to make a difference. The issue requires bipartisan attention and efforts, not just on free access to public transportation. Budget for welfare benefits for those with physical disabilities is among the lowest of OECD member countries. The government and legislature must work together to make improvements. It is society’s duty to protect and take care of the disabled.
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