The Korea Herald


Korea’s disabled demand better deal

By Korea Herald

Published : Feb. 22, 2012 - 19:53

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For the 2.5 million people registered as disabled in Korea, daily life can be a constant struggle.

Employment is hard to find when you are in a wheelchair, education levels among disabled people are low, and even leaving the house can be near impossible for the severely disabled who have nobody around to help.

But support group Solidarity Against Disability Discrimination is campaigning to change laws it believes set Korea’s disabled people at a disadvantage.

Severely disabled members of SADD held a press conference in front of the Ministry of Health and Welfare in Seoul on Wednesday, and a larger rally also took place near the city’s Jonggak Subway Station.

SADD president and founder Park Kyung-seok said the rally with hundreds of participants, including family members of disabled people, aimed to highlight the need for new developmental disability laws.

The events were part of an ongoing struggle to amend existing and create new laws that will benefit all disabled people. For example, he said current laws must be bolstered to recognize people with conditions such as cerebral palsy and learning difficulties and boost care for them.
More than 1,000 people protest in Seoul for more rights for the disabled on Wednesday. (Hamish Macdonald) More than 1,000 people protest in Seoul for more rights for the disabled on Wednesday. (Hamish Macdonald)

SADD has made 19 demands for this year to mark the 19th general elections in Korea to be held on April 11. Disabled people have also sent a list of 11 demands to the Ministry of Health and Welfare calling for better disability benefits and pensions, support to live independently outside institutions and the abolishment of a disability grading system.

Although the Korean government does have disability discrimination and welfare laws in place, campaigners say they go nowhere near far enough to supporting their livelihoods.

The ministry currently allocates disabled people’s benefits through a system grading their impairment from 1 to 6. Only people in the two most severe categories can apply for benefits, and only first grade individuals can get personal assistance services.

“We are trying to abolish this system,” Park said.

Need for benefits

Currently, disabled people can claim a maximum of 161,200 won and a minimum of 91,200 won per month. But SADD said the amount does not meet the full costs of people living with disabilities, who often can’t work due to their conditions.

According to another government survey, severely disabled people pay more than 208,000 won in additional costs per month, with personal assistance services being their biggest expense.

There are more than 350,000 people with disabilities who need the service, according to official reports, but only 220,000 of them are in the first category, meaning that 130,000 disabled people cannot apply for the service they need. In 2011, only 55,000 people had access to the service.

Their need is highlighted by the fact that 2.8 percent of disabled people can never leave their homes, and 3.9 percent are physically unable to do so more than 10 times a year due to their conditions and a lack of personal assistance.

Park also said that judging the level of care needed must also take social conditions into account.

“The concept should be changed, the disability itself does not just depend on impairment but social discrimination should be considered as well,” he said, adding that the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities declared that governments should consider social discrimination of disabled people when allocating care and funds.

SADD has said that social discrimination occurs from a young age, through exclusion in schools and later in the job market.

Government statistics show that 15.8 percent of disabled people have not gone to elementary school and 45.1 percent only reach an elementary school level of education, making it almost impossible to compete in society and gain employment.

“It is a capitalist society, so non-educated people cannot get money and most of them are unemployed and poor,” Park said.

The government has introduced a quota system to help boost disabled employment, requiring companies to hire a minimum number of disabled people or pay a fine, but Park said most companies would rather accept the penalty than hire disabled people.

“That’s the discrimination, they choose and prefer to pay a fine rather than employ the disabled,” he added. “They cannot find a job and without money they have a miserable life.”

A SADD helpline receives calls from disabled people suffering social discrimination, including from insurance companies unwilling to give them contracts due to their physical conditions.

The group also wants the government to reduce its consideration of the wealth of the disabled person’s family when allocating benefits. The “family support obligation” measure means that wealthier families receive less benefits, creating more social pressures for disabled people.

“Being seen as a burden to their family, their lives become more miserable,” Park said. And with 86.7 percent of disabled people’s support coming only from their families, the situation is compounded.

Independent lives

SADD also wants it to be easier for disabled people to live independently in their own homes. Institutions for disabled people have come under scrutiny in recent years for abuse including cases of violent sexual abuse highlighted in the 2011 movie “Dogani,” which caused a public outcry for reform.

SADD has taken part in six major cases of sexual abuse against disabled people with three successful prosecutions, two ongoing and one under appeal.

Park said life was improving for disabled people in Korea, but more needs to be done.

The Ministry of Health and Welfare said Wednesday that they had received SADD’s campaign documents and were processing the information. Officials said they would give an answer but had not done so yet.

By Hamish Mcdonald (