Even though there is a considerable amount of differently abled people in the workforce, they often go unacknowledged or unsupported, and university campuses are no exception. The employment rate of people with disabilities in Korea was 8,476 people, making up 51.4 percent of those surveyed according to Korean Statistical Information Service (KOSIS)’s figures as of April 2018.
To tackle these invisible barriers, Ewha is striving to become a barrier-free campus. For example, one of the school’s humanities course named Shared Leadership often calls for student team projects to bring about positive change on and off campus. This year, one group from class 12 named “Happy life for all people with a disability and non-disability” carried out activities to raise awareness of handicapped students.
“One of our team members suggested this as our theme and fortunately, everyone in the group were interested in it,” said Kwon Su-jeong, a member of the team who majors in the Department of Special Education. “We focused on helping disabled students and staff in Ewha, which led us to make a map of the campus to help them get around. We also interviewed the school’s Support Center for Students with Disabilities (SCSD) and heard about the difficulties that students with disabilities face.”
After realizing the need for a better perspective towards them, the team decided to advertise such information by making newsletters. The team also put up posters and stickers around facilities on campus that were not considering disabled students’ difficulties.
For example, they put stickers marking elevators that do not announce the floor verbally only a ‘half’ of an elevator’s function since it does not consider the blind who won’t be able to see which floor it is without the auditory guide.
Before starting the project, the group had never encountered disabled students at Ewha. The project informed and changed their perspectives. The students made the map after interviewing SCSD and divided themselves into three groups to estimate the steepness of different routes around the Ewha campus for those using wheelchairs. The standard for this was checked by the SCSD and set to the degree of difficulty that a person with an injured leg would have to move around.
“We really hope that our newsletters play a role in changing some of misguided perceptions of handicapped people,” Kwon said. “We also hope that the map we designed helps students using wheelchairs to move around campus better. Please join us in handicapped-related campaigns for a better Ewha and society!”
Ewha’s Student Services has also made efforts to support disabled students. For example, it has given out pamphlets with information to help correct misguided views handicapped students.
There is also information online to help address such views and an introduction to who support and help handicapped students around campus. The pamphlets also describe the difficulties handicapped students have to go through.
On May 27, the 35th student council of the Department of Special Education Spectrum, held a lecture named “Woman with disability’s sex and reproduction rights” at the POSCO building collaborating with Women with Disabilities Empathy.
The lecturer was Na Young-jung, who is an activist in the field of disabled women, minorities and refugees’ human rights, and HIV/AIDS human rights from Women with Disabilities Empathy.
“Some say that when minorities raise their voices, it seems to be just them making a fuss out of everything,” Na said. “The governmental subsidy for the disabled is decreasing and whilst that is happening, the simple words intended harmless which state that the handicapped ‘deserve equal rights’ seem like a barrier itself too.”
Na explained the difficulties that are still yet to be resolved, with the struggles and stereotypes that the handicapped go through despite the little yet positive changes such as increases of elevators in the subway.
“The disabled women’s rights were initially handled focused on those who are victims of rape,” Na said. “But the spectrum, like the title of this lecture, has broadened in today’s society.”
Na explained how forcing or offering intersex to the handicapped along with other unilateral offers of help is also a form of violating the handicapper’s rights. The rights of the handicapped kicked off from the rights of one fully being ‘oneself,’ which means that the person shall be individual and fully in control with their life socially and biologically.
“The problems that arise regarding disabled women are not from one’s handicap itself but the social and systematic mechanisms around it,” Na concluded. “Therefore, my fellow members are trying to tackle such problems considering these facts.”