Friday, March 11, 2016

An Ethnographic Look at "People With Disabiities" in Korean Society

Symone Gosby, recent graduate of Smith College and an East Asian studies major, presents her research on the disabilities right movement and the self-determination of people with disabilities (PWD). As a student with disabilities herself (she doesn't say which), Symone is interested in the transformation of disabilities with Korean society. After completing her 2015-2015 Fulbright research grant, she plans to study Human Rights and Humanitarian Policy.

Following is the write-up of her current in-progress research:
Nothing About Us, Without Us: An Ethnographical Study on the Effect of Self-Determination in the Lives of People with Disabilities  
"Ever heard of the Korean Disability Rights Movement? Not many have. Yet, since the 1980s the movement has made a significant impact on the way people with disabilities (PWD) are treated and viewed within Korea society. The movement has resulted in laws such as the Welfare of Persons with Disabilities Act (1989), Disability Employment Promotion and Vocational Rehabilitation Act (1999), Anti-Discrimination Act (2007), and more.  
Before the 1980s, PWD were invisible members of society and the topic of disabilities was considered taboo. Although over the decades the situation of PWD has improved and disabilities has become a more openly talked about and studied subject, PWD continue to be a marginalized group in Korean society. This is in part due to the negative attitudes and misconceptions held by people without disabilities. In a society where education and economic contribution is a measurement of one’s societal participation, PWD are wrongly seen as pitiful beings who are unable to fully contribute to society. This idea needs to be changed. Corrected misconceptions are key for further social inclusion.  
My research focuses on self-determination as a method to social integration. This method allows PWD to be at the forefront of correcting societal misconceptions. Research has shown that PWD equipped with the skill of self-determination challenge the perceptions of others who view them as incapable of making decisions about their own lives and also have a better quality of life. Although educators understand the importance of teaching self-determination, the Korean educational system leaves little room for actual implementation. Although western scholars say self-determination should be taught as early as pre-school, this is not completely possible for Korea. This does not mean students with disabilities (SWD) are void of such skill, however.  
  • Through 1-on-1 interviews with SWD from multiple universities in Seoul, I investigate what factors have influenced them to exercise self-determination and how this skill has affected their lives."
Disability Rights Movement: A History

Several events and the passing of international laws resulted in a slow change in discourse for PWD in South Korea—that is, the change of focus from individual fault to that of social responsibility, and thus enabling the passing of Korea's first welfare law, the Welfare Law for Mentally Disabled and Handicapped.
  • UN Principles of Anti-discrimination
  • 1948 - Universal Declaration of Human Rights
  • 1975 - UN Declaration of the Rights of Disabled Persons
  • 1981 - International Year of Disabled People
  • 1987 - Protests against Seoul hosting the 1988 Paralympic Games, which cloaked human rights violations of disabled people
  • Welfare law amended (enhancing PWD social status, equalling employment legislation, inducing affirmative action for education)
  • Committee for Health and Welfare for the Disabled created
    • Gaining of mainstream societal attention and therefore challenging of stereotypes
  • OECD member eligibility, and therefore more welfare reforms
  • 1994 - Special university admission for students with disabilities (SWD), which increased the number of SWD pursuing higher education
    • First universities to implement special admission process
      • Yonsei University
      • Ewha Womans University
      • Sogang University
      • Daegu University
      • Presbyterian College and Theological Seminary
    • 100 colleges (5% nationwide) implement special admission process
  • Right to medical treatment, economic and social security, education, mobility, etc, namely the recognition of Fundamental Human Rights
  • Right to mobility:
    • Elevators at every subway station, wheelchair accessible buses, amenities for comfortable and safe usage of public transportation
    • May 2002 - Subway Lift Incident (many accidents with the subway lifts but a PWD finally died in such an accident), which resulted in a hunger strike and City Hall demonstration 
from the blog of a sports enthusiast who became a paraplegic January 1999
차별에 가로막힌 장애인들의 고향 방문 ‘꿈’

Existing Legislature:
  • 1989 - Welfare for Persons with Disabilities Act
  • 1990 - Act Relating to Employment, Promotion, etc of the Handicapped
  • 1994 - Special Education Promotion Law
  • 1997 - Act of Facilities Improvement for Persons with Disabilities
  • 2005 - Reasonable Accommodations of Public Transportation for the Weak Act
  • 2007 - Act of Employment Promotion and Vocational Rehabilitation for Disabled Persons
  • 2007 - Anti-Discrimination Against and Remedies for Persons with Disabilities Act
  • 2011 - Children with Disabilities Welfare Act
Current Situation:

Disabled Population: 2,646,064 (5.45 total population)
  • 15 disability types
  • physical
  • brain lesions
  • blindness
  • deafness
  • speech impediment
  • intellectual/developmental
  • autism
  • mental
  • kidney disorder
  • heart disorder
  • respiratory disorder
  • liver disorder
  • facial disorder
  • intestinal disorder
  • epilepsy
  • NOTE: learning disabilities not included
One of the biggest ways people with disabilities have been discriminated against is in education, and as a result, their achievable socioeconomic status.

A 7-minute podcast on Disabled South Koreans Most Common Victims of Discrimination discloses that more than half of all discrimination complaints filed in South Korea come from people with disabilities.

Symone Gosby is only partially done with her study, particularly focusing on SWD. Her hope is that ultimately her research, by listening to and documenting the voice of the oppressed, will further awareness of the hidden, and in some cases, obvious on-going elements of prejudice and discrimination.

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