Human rights with disabilities represent the level of social welfare in the country. The struggle for the right to move the disabled was triggered by the 2001 incident, in which a disabled person in his 70s crashed and died while using a wheelchair lift at Oido Station on Seoul Subway Line 4. Some rough methods are also mobilized, such as occupying buses and subway tracks. Only then does the world pay a little attention. Through this article, Soongsilians also hope that they will be interested in them even a little, and ST covered their struggles. .....................................................................................................Ed
# What is ‘A right of the disabled to move’?
A right of the disabled to move means the pass that the disabled can move freely like the non-disabled with no physical barriers. Currently, in Korea, there is no practical guarantee, so many disabled bear the difficulties of moving. Therefore, movement rights of the disabled have been constantly addressed. On December 20, 2021, teams related to the disabled mounted protests for the right to move at the Seoul Metro Line 5. They went to the subway, and yelled, “Guaranteed moving pass for the disabled!” Moreover, they blocked the subway by pushing the wheelchair wheel into the gap between the subway and the platform. In this process, a screen door was crushed. There was difficulty in running the metro during the hour because of the protest, causing inconvenience to many people. Participants in the protest said that the people, the National Assembly, and the press get interested only when there are violent protests. People were confused, and there were traffic jams. Then, how does the drive for the right of movement for the disabled start?
# Why do they begin to express their will?
The protest for the right to move for the handicapped was triggered by a falling accident in the Seoul Metro Line 4, Oidostation, in 2001. An elderly couple reached the station by the elevator for the disabled as they were going to their family home before the New Year’s holiday. At that moment, the elevator’s iron core was broken. Then, the elderly couple who were the victims fell under 7 meters. Though the victims were brought to the hospital, they died eventually. After this incident, accidents related to the handicapped became more common. People who participated in the protest for the movement of the disabled were aiming to prevent the occurrence of accidents and make their movement freer than what it is today. They claim that there must be an increase of low-floor buses as there is a law that was passed in 2006 to improve the mobility of the vulnerable. This law promised to adopt the rate of low-floor buses at 42%, but as of 2020, the percentage of adoption is still at 27.8%. Plus, they constantly push for elevators to be established in all stations of the Seoul Metro so that the disabled can freely move from the exit doors to the platform.
# Low-floor bus
In 2006, there was a law for the mobility of the vulnerable to be made comfortable, and the plan to implement this law was made in 2007. However, there was no development for making the plan a reality. It promised to convert 31.5% of city buses nationwide to low-floor buses by 2011. Still, the adoption rate of it is 12% in 2011. In the second plan, its goal was to convert 41.5% of city buses nationwide. The practical achievement rate has not reached half of the goal, as it was only at 19%. Especially, in areas where there are no subways like the Seoul Metro, the bus is an important means for mobility. However, the conversion of low-floor buses is still seriously low.
The adoption of a low-floor bus comes with a cost. The price of a regular bus is about 120 million won. On the other hand, the price of low-floor buses is about 210 million won, twice that of regular buses. Bus companies get little support from the local government’s budget to adopt to a low-floor bus. So, bus owners don’t like low-floor buses because it is quite expensive to maintain new low-floor buses as well as to convert current buses into low-floor buses. In the case of the local government, they worry about budgets that will be spent in adopting low-floor buses. Also, there is no imposed duty to do so in the law. To solve these problems, the government is trying to introduce a law that will make the adoption of low-floor buses as a duty. There is a duty to change regular buses to low-floor buses in the law for the vulnerable. As a law that was passed at the plenary session of the National Assembly, expectations for realizing the right to move the disabled have risen.
However, it is a difficult situation where only widespread low-floor buses can solve the problem of the disabled’s movement. There are many barriers to using low-floor buses. There was a study in 2018 that targeted 657 wheelchair users who live in the Seoul metropolitan area. A total of 487 participants answered that they have not experienced using the low-floor bus. No such buses were arriving at the intended destination. There is a lack of safety devices in the bus, and there is a long waiting time for low-floor buses. Also, low-floor buses have fewer routes than regular buses. Thus, the adoption of low-floor buses was deactivated. Wheelchair users have to use other means of transportation or wait at the bus stops far from their areas.
To reach a place that is usually hard to get with public transportation, we get the help of a private car or taxi. However, it might be difficult to load a wheelchair into the taxi. To solve these problems, there is a taxi for the physically challenged who use a wheelchair. Despite the intention of the taxi, however, some problems still arise and cause prejudice on the right for the disabled to move. In the case of taxi for the disabled operated by the Seoul Facilities Corporation, people with pedestrian disabilities and whose disability is first or second grade are eligible to use such taxi as a standard before the disability rating system was abolished. Previously, only those with first and second-class disabilities were set as targets that can use such taxi, and some people could not use them in spite of the need for a call taxi for the disabled. To prevent the misuse and ensure the smooth operation of the taxi for the disabled, standards must be put in place, wherein people who need a taxi should be prioritized.
The unbalance in the supply is also a problem that must be solved. The number of taxis in operation is lower than the demand. As a result, people wait for over 2 hours. There are a total of 619 taxis for the disabled operated by the Seoul Facilities Corporation. As of 2019, about 400,000 people with disabilities are registered in Seoul, and about 90,000 people can use taxis for the disabled. In particular, due to the abolition of the disability rating system, the number of people eligible for taxi for the disabled has expanded. According to this phenomenon, there is a concern that the users of a taxi for the disabled have to wait longer than ever.
It is also a problem when each local government has a different way of operating a taxi for the disabled, thus causing confusion. Taxi for the disabled run by the Seoul Facilities Corporation operate not only throughout Seoul, but also throughout the metropolitan area. However, if a taxi for the disabled operating in the metropolitan area does not go to Seoul, other means of transportation such as low-floor buses and subways should be accessible. For example, someone took a taxi for the disabled operating in Seoul, and traveled
from Dongjak-gu, Seoul to Uijeongbu City, Gyeonggi-do. The passenger tries to take a taxi to Dongjak-gu again, but this is impossible. This is because taxi for the disabled operated by the Uijeongbu City Facility Management Corporation only pass by adjacent areas, such as Dobong-gu and Nowon-gu, Seoul. Although there are wide-area operations that pass through the Seoul metropolitan area for free purposes, it is difficult to actively utilize them due to time constraints or number limitations. As such, taxis for the disabled are restricted from smooth movement between regions.
On October 20, 2017, a man who is disabled fell and died while using a wheelchair lift at Singil Station. He has a first-degreephysical disability and fell down the stairs while trying to press the call button with his right arm, which lost its function. He died after 98 days of fighting against the disease. Afterwards, a memorial ceremony was held in front of the Singil Station’s stairs going down Line 1 to Line 5, and there was a banner titled “Memorial Ceremony for the 1st Anniversary of the Fall Disaster” and a picture reading ”Victim of Murder Lift.” More than 300 days after the accident, Solidarity Against Disability Discrimination received an apology from the Seoul Metro, and they pointed out that Seoul Metro didn’t make a definite plan even if they said to install elevators in all subway stations by 2022.
Criticisms on wheelchair lifts are constantly being leveled. First, in order to use the lift, a station employee must accompany the disabled passenger. Then, there is a limitation that ”someone’s help is needed.” This restriction prevents people with disabilities from moving to where they want. Therefore, the subway lift can be seen as a product that does not reflect the concept of the right to move for the disabled. Furthermore, they must ask for help and wait every time to use the lift. According to a survey by the Korea Consumer Agency, 20 out of 31 subway stations (64.5%) across South Korea have broken buttons and interphones, making it impossible to use them properly.
Second, there is the risk of falling, as mentioned earlier. Wheelchair lifts are only 20-30 cm wider than wheelchairs, so the disabled can be nervous as they try to use it. While going down, the machine is prone to shake, the equipment may be worn out, and disabled people will feel anxious as they use it due to a series of recent lift crashes. Subway station lift incidents involving disabled people have steadily occurred. In June 1999, Mr. Lee fell from a lift and was injured. After that, the right to move was first recognized by demanding a compensationsuit against the Seoul Metro. In January 2001, a vertical lift crashed and was destroyed at Oido Station of the Seoul Subway Station. The struggle to guarantee the right to move for the disabled took place in earnest and it continued in 2002 due to a lift crash at Balsan Station.
Lastly, the lift produces a loud sound. When someone operates to ride the lift, a loud music sound can be heard as the lift moves,
which goes beyond the level of the alarm. This sound is very loud and draws attention from people in the station and makes lift users feel uncomfortable. Such problems continue to be raised, and accidents also occur one after another, raising questions about the practicality of subway lifts.
It is important not only the subway but the distance between the platform and the train when using the subway for the disabled. According to a survey of 35 subway stations nationwide by the Korea Consumer Agency in 2018, 30 did not comply with the gap standard (within 5 cm) between subway rooms platforms with exclusive seats for wheelchairs. Ten locations exceeded the 1.5 cm height standard. In particular, 18 locations did not have a warning sign that the distance between the platform and the vehicle was wide, raising concerns about the possibility of wheelchair wheels or feet falling out. In April 2019, Mr. Jang, a physically disabled person, had an accident in which a wheelchair wheel fell off at Sinchon Station. He filed a civil suit against Seoul Metro. National audit data which was received from Seoul Metropolitan and Seoul Metro in 2019 showed that 381 people were injured on the platform of Seoul Subway Lines 1 to 8. Accidents between subway platforms, which occur frequently even for non-disabled people, can be a greater threat to disabled people.
ST surveyed 50 Soongsilians on the issue of “perception and improvement of subway convenience facilities for the disabled.” First, 35 out of 50 people (about 70%) answered ”No” to the question, ”Do you think Korean subway stations are well equipped with facilities for the disabled?” Of the 35, 34 (about 99%) said they needed to improve convenience facilities for the disabled. Also, there was an opinion that lack of facilities and of management were the biggest reasons for the need convenience facilities for the disabled. Then how should the convenience facilities for the disabled on the subway be improved? In response, Soongsilians replied that it is necessary to ensure safety for high risk facilities such as lifts, raise awareness of non-disabled people‘s use of the facilities, and expand the use of the facilities.
Let‘s Take a Bus Shouting for 21 years for the disabled
"Our fight is to take a bus with you ‘together’. We hope to move with you ‘together’ and move a world ‘together'."
You can see about 40 photos at the Let‘s Take the Bus photo exhibition. From the struggle for the right to move the disabled to a chart that does not have many means of transportation for the disabled, you can realize that their struggle has been ongoing for a long time. Moreover, not only photos but also videos related to the right to move the disabled are played. In order to induce visitors at the photo exhibition to be actively interested in the right to move the disabled, pamphlets are distributed directly, and badges with wheelchair wheels and handcuffs drawn together are also given away.
Efforts are continuously being made to promote the struggle for the right to move the disabled. One of them is Let‘s Take a Bus, a photo exhibition of mobility tickets for the disabled. ST went to the scene in person. It was held from January 17 to 21, 2022 at the National Assembly Hall. It is a photography exhibition of the 21-year history of striving to achieve the right to move the disabled. The history, from the 2001, Oido Station lift crash to the subway propaganda exhibition to secure the budget for the rights of the disabled in 2021, is expressed in photos for people to see.
The exhibition’s promotional material talks about what can be found in common in the photos. First, the 20-yearoldphotos of the struggle for the right to move the disabled consistently contain the slogan, ”Guarantee the right to move the disabled.” Second, it is said that it contains images of people with disabilities struggling. All the photos show that the disabled, who started the struggle, never return to their lives before the struggle, and are steadily speaking out. It also conveys the message of the people who are fighting to guarantee the right to move the disabled.
”The standard of living for the socially disadvantaged is a measure of the social standard”, said Park Maru, a second-degree physical disability councilor. In Finland, the country known for the best welfare in the world, not only the disabled, but also those who lead strollers and ride electric wheelchairs board low-floor buses without hesitation. In the case of the UK and Germany, according to the ”Collection of Advanced Data on Transportation Without Obstacles” released by the Korea Disabled Development Institute, access to low-floor buses in the UK is 98%. Trains and subways have a wheelchair space at the entrance door and seats for the disabled are placed close to the wheelchair rotation space. German city buses have a wide entrance, so the disabled can ride without any inconvenience when using wheelchairs, and there are dedicated seats and rotating spaces close to the entrance. It can be seen as a ”developed country” welfare system. However, according to a comparative analysis of the trend of low-floor bus introduction between Korea and the UK by the National Solidarity for the Elimination of Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities, the trend of low-floor bus introduction in Korea is about 28% compared to the UK’s 100%. The Republic of Korea was officially recognized as an advanced country by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in July 2021, but it can be seen that the welfare for the disabled remains insufficient.
The disadvantaged, like colored people, women, and other minorities, are starting to let their voices be heard. Then various kinds of main characters are shown in the movie or drama. Here, we can understand and come in contact with different types of people. However, the disabled are usually described from the view of the non-disabled. People think of disability as a barrier that is hard to overcome. Recently, news articles didn’t report the protest on the right of the disabled to move, or only report those focusing on the inconvenience of traffic confusion caused by the protest. The ideal model of a society consists of all members acting independently. To realize the ideal society, we should focus on the minorities’ voices. The interest in the disabled’s movement rights can guarantee it as practical.
Kim Tae-eun (Planning Editor)
Jeon Min-young (News Editor)