Disabled From Abroad Share Their Stories

Posted on : Nov.1,2012

Visitors to Korea from all over describe how the advantages of their countries’ systems

By Kim Kyu-nam, staff reporter

“There was no reason for her to die like that. I’m very sad that she died in vain,” said a foreign visitor to Korea who suffers from a disability and recently participated in a ceremony for the deceased Kim Ju-young.

Tanya Black, 39, from New Zealand voiced her sorrow many times, unable to hide her mournful expression at a ceremony held in Gwanghwamun Square, Seoul on Oct. 30. Black uses a wheelchair after the lower half of her body was paralyzed due to myelopathy, a severe spinal cord dysfunction.

She came to South Korea on Oct. 25 to take part in the 2012 Asia and Pacific Disability Forum (APDF) held in Incheon. The day after Black arrived in Korea, Kim died in her apartment after being unable to escape from a small fire. Black took part in the ceremony along with 30 other foreigners with disabilities who were in South Korea for the same forum.

Black described New Zealand’s well-developed system for assisting the disabled to live independently. She added that she considers herself lucky compared to disabled individuals living in other countries.

Activists for the rights of the disabled have recently criticized the Korean government for grouping disabled people into levels and determining their amount of assistance according to their level. These levels don’t exist in New Zealand. No one fails to receive support on the grounds that their disability is not serious enough. The qualification for receiving the services of an assistant are not strict, and there is no limitation on the length of service. Black, who can use both of her hands, is provided support from a home care assistant in cleaning, doing laundry and other chores for four hours a day. If she had been born in South Korea, she would not have qualified for such assistance.

Black, who once ran a restaurant, was injured after falling down a flight of stairs six years ago. Now she lives alone, working as a producer for a broadcasting program for the disabled. Over the last six years, Black has received various welfare benefits provided by the New Zealand government to help disabled citizens live independently.

“The government gave me a car outfitted for the disabled at no charge, and renovated not only the interior of my house but also the driveway so that I could move around using my wheelchair. There is no major difficulty for the disabled in finding a job because the government provides 80 percent of the salary for the first year of employment,” said Black.

Disabled people from many countries who took part in the APDF said that the tragedy suffered by Kim would not have occurred in their countries. Patrick Pojaroles, 61, a Canadian who took part in Rehabilitation International (RI), said, “In Canada, a disabled person provides information on his or her disabilities to the government, and the local fire station, hospital and police share the information. These organizations can provide assistance at any time, whenever the person presses an alarm that they carry.”

Many countries have policies in place to support the self-reliance of the disabled and provide them with preferential treatment. In Taiwan, electric wheelchairs are given to those who are unable to move their lower body. Abraham Shiye, 44, of Taiwan, whose legs were paralyzed when he was one year old due to polio, said, “The disabled are able to rent public housing at a reduced price, and pay only 20 percent of tuition for schools all the way through university in Taiwan. I can also go to the public hospitals at no charge and receive benefits in housing, transportation, medicine, and education.”

Jeon Hyun-il, 68, who has been taking care of his disabled daughter in the U.S. for more than 40 years said, “I didn’t pay a single penny while she was enrolled in public education, Those with developmental disabilities are offered four years of additional public education for job training and social skills.” Jeon’s daughter, living in a country where such things are possible, has now become a competent worker who arranges books at a city library.

A disabled woman cries at a wake for deceased activist Kim Joo-young held in Gwanghwamun Square on Oct. 26.

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Reproduced from http://english.hani.co.kr/arti/english_edition/e_national/558558.html