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Seoul subway sit-in for free disabled services

People with disabilities are staging a protest to call for free personal care services in Seoul.

Members of Solidarity Against Disability Discrimination have been holding a sit-in at City Hall Subway Station for the past 22 days and say they will not budge until they are granted the same free services as disabled people in other Korean provinces. 
Solidarity Against Disability Discrimination member Jeong Eun-joo (right) campaigns with other activists at City Hall Subway Station, Seoul, Wednesday. (Kirsty Taylor)
Solidarity Against Disability Discrimination member Jeong Eun-joo (right) campaigns with other activists at City Hall Subway Station, Seoul, Wednesday. (Kirsty Taylor)

“For severely disabled people who have difficulty getting around on their own, assistance is a matter of life and death,” the group wrote in a flier handed out to commuters using the subway station closest to the city government offices.

“Severely disabled people have demanded and fought for an expansion in the assistance system,” the document continued.

“As a result, last April Mayor Oh Se-hoon, through the general measures for disabled people’s welfare announced that the city would support up to 360 hours of assistance to the severely disabled making it the country’s highest provider of support.

“But, Seoul began to levy a charge on the newly expanded system, which had been free. Seoul, which had proclaimed it would massively expand the service, had in fact conspired to enforce payment and infringe on rights.”

Solidarity Against Disability Discrimination Activist Jeong Eun-joo said that while many disabled people had to pay 100,000 won a month for personal care, some paid up to 200,000 won to have a worker help them with basic daily tasks ― an unaffordable amount for disabled people who are often unable to work.

“We need this help from the government in order to have basic human rights,” wheelchair user Jeong said, adding that all other Korean provinces offered personal services to disabled people free of charge.

“It is only Seoul that levies such a fee.”

The group was initially campaigning against Oh’s rhetoric on disability welfare but is now waiting to see if the next person voted into the post will support their demands.

Oh recently stepped down from his mayorship after the referendum he called to limit the scope of Seoul City’s universal free school meal policy failed because of low voter turnout.

As part of its disability welfare policies, the city government has pledged to “establish a welfare system designed to boost the self-reliance and self-independence of low-income citizens and the disabled,” but Solidarity Against Disability Discrimination members say the current policies are not meeting their needs.

Jeong said the campaign for free personal care services had garnered support from liberal political parties, and that they were gathering up to 300 signatures each day for their petition which they intend to hand to the Seoul City Government.

“More and more people are joining our campaign every day,” she said.

By Kirsty Taylor (kirstyt@heraldcorp.com)
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