[Op-ed] Mobility Rights for the Disabled
The status quo in Korea, and on how to improve it
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During national holiday seasons in Korea, issues always arise. In Korea, where people go to visit their parents and relatives living in different locations throughout the country, it is always a problem for the disabled to find proper transportation to travel to locations that are generally more than 2-3 hours away. Most recently, on January 26th, two disabled people tried to take a bus at the Seoul Express Bus Terminal to visit their parents and families in Busan for Seollal, one of the biggest national holidays celebrating the Lunar New Year. However, they were rejected and offered no help. The reason for this was because intercity buses are not properly equipped with special facilities for disabled passengers.
While such incidents involving the disabled was deemed a problem a long while back, it's surprising that the law itself already mentions the protection of disabled people's rights akin to the basic human rights of all people. Rights to mobility for the disabled is a part of accessibility rights. It means that a disabled individual should be able to move around and reach a desired destination using different transportation systems. It also states that the government should assure the rights of disabled people to use public transportation like taxis, buses, and the subways in Korea to enable them to travel around freely, just as it is granted for people with no disabilities.
“Public” transportation, not for the disabled
There are approximately 32.552 buses in Korea and 20 percent of them are made as low-floor buses, with no steps, which allow people with physical difficulties or those on wheelchairs to get onto the bus easily. While the number of such buses are seriously lacking for disabled people, it can even be said that they aren't able to fully utilize the existing ones to their convenience. When people on wheelchairs try to ride on a low-floor bus, drivers would oftentimes ignore and reject them, claiming that they don't know how to control the lift, or that it's simply broken.
The case with trains and subways are not so different. The KTX, run by Korail, has 2 to 4 disabled seats on each train, but disabled passenger is still restricted from using other facilities inside the train like the cinema or restaurant. On other trains besides the KTX - Mugungwha and Saemauel trains - it is almost impossible for the disabled to ride in them, as basic facilities weren't built inside, or the way to get to the trains is unsafe for people in wheelchairs.
With taxis, the Seoul Metropolitan City introduced 'call taxis' for the disabled in 2003. It was for people with level 1 and 2 brain damage, or those on wheelchairs. While the project started out with 100 cabs, the number increased to about 500 cabs in 2017. While the introduction of call taxis did increase in other regions as well and did match the number required by law, it is still said by a lot of users that it is hard to get serviced on a daily basis. They have to wait for about 40 minutes when traffic isn't busy, and 3 to 4 hours during rush hour. Getting to work every day, which is just a daily routine for non-disabled people, is a daily concern for the disabled because of limited transportation systems.
Better welfare for all
While there are increasing demands for the disabled to be guaranteed their rights, it is unnerving to witness that the government’s budget for their welfare is simply not enough. While the budget has been on the increase every year by 20 to 30 percent, because the issue has been gaining more attention in the last several years, existing policies and infrastructures are insufficient compared to the number of people who are in need of more help and attention.
In the short run, the government should increase specially equipped taxi and vehicles. In the longer run, buses and subways should be equipped with lifts to help the disabled hop on and off with more ease. To create and implement such policies, a separate department of law and policy for the disabled within the government would be of significant help.
While the aforementioned policies could be easier said than done, it is more important for our society to shift our perspectives of the disabled. As disabled people are unable to move around freely, people should understand the importance of their mobility rights, and that being assured for all people regardless of their physical or mental state. For the drivers of various public transportation, it is essential for the companies or institutions to educate their employees to service disabled passengers on par with other passengers.
Yun Ji-hyun firstname.lastname@example.org
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