Grassroots Disability Groups Lead Reform Efforts In Korea
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
May 19, 2005
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA--Every April 20, the South Korean government holds highly-publicized events honoring some of its citizens for "overcoming" their disabilities.
By some accounts, it's a splendid festival with heart-warming stories and lots of good food.
So, why does a coalition of 68 disability organizations hold rallies and demonstrations for a month to protest the event?
"For 364 days we are treated like dogs, staying trapped at home, isolated from all aspects of society, and on one day, April 20, the government treats us to a festival with rice cake and media attention. Do you think we enjoy this?" asked a member of the Joint Association Struggling for the Human Rights of the Disabled.
The groups decided to unite two years ago, convinced that only through grassroots activism could things change for the better. They noted that anti-discrimination laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Disability Discrimination Acts in Australia and the United Kingdom only exist because of the work of disability rights advocates.
The Korea Herald this week ran a two-part story on the activism that these Koreans use toward improving accessibility, education, community living, employment and other aspects of life that people without disabilities take for granted.
"The hardest thing for me is the barrier that society imposes on us. Because everything is set to the standard of non-disabled persons, all aspects of society isolates and ostracizes us," Kim Gyung-tae, an association member who has cerebral palsy, told the Herald. "The physical inconvenience is something I get used to, but the psychological hardship that I go through is immense."