Waking up every morning, taking lectures at college and have lunch with friends - this is a daily life of an ordinary female college student. Yet, what if the student was injured and could not use her legs? According to Ministry of Health and Welfare, 90% of the disabled become so through acquired disease or accidents1 and we are not free from the danger either. Supposing both legs were incapacitated, the Sookmyung Times Reporter, Kin Juhee experienced a day of female student in a wheelchair.
10 : 00 AM
I took the subway to go to Sookmyung Women’s University. It was such a relief that the time table did not overlap with rush hour because if it did, I couldn’t have taken it due to people’s eyes. It was hard to even get on the train because of the space between the train and the platform. In effect, disabled people often use cars 33%, buses 26.2%, call taxis for the disabled 12.4%, and subways 9.8% for their means of transportation.2 Kim Pilsoo, Professor of Automotive Engineering at Dalim University said, “It is almost impossible for disabled people to move around by current public transportation. Special devices equipped on a few buses are already torn down or useless. Using a car can be the most realistic way, but this is not easy either.”3 The state of non-step buses is not that good, either. I got off at SMU station and waited for a bus, but I had to hold on for a while since only step buses came. Currently in Korea, low-floor buses are only 28.6%, and 43% of them are in Seoul.4
11 : 00 AM
Finally, I reached the front gate of SMU. I had lectures at the College of Pharmacy and Myungshin Building 320. It took extra time to get there than it used to with my two feet. It was quite bearable to move around in the 2nd Foundation Campus, but it was almost impossible in the 1st Campus. There were even places that were unable to visit by wheelchair on my own. I especially needed the help of my friend on my way to the Myungshin Building, because I had to pass three steep ascents to avoid stairs, lots of raised spots around campus, and a bumpy road. Also, opening the doors was one of the hardest challenges I had to confront in a wheelchair. Since most doors in SMU were hinged doors, however hard I pushed, it was difficult to open, so most times, I just had to wait until someone came and opened it. Those trivial and minor things that I did not care about before provided me hard times and hindrance. I faced lots of situations that made me to go all the way back due to just one raised spot. Park Sanghee, a writer with a son who uses a wheelchair, wrote in her essay, “A raised spot with only the height of a brick will make us go all the way back, although we came so far. There are no problems for this road to normal people, yet a wheelchair can’t go any farther.”5
12 : 30 PM
After the lecture at Myungshin Building, I visited Eaekyung’s Powder room to fix my makeup. But to my surprise, the mirror was too high for me in the wheelchair, and I couldn’t see my face in it. All I could do was to hold my chin as high as possible, but I failed to engage the right eye level, so I had to tint the rouge by sensation.
01 : 00 PM
After all the classes ended, I planned to have lunch and shopping with my friend. While I was on the wheelchair, the slope of SMU and rushing people gave me a threat, therefore I changed the gear to the lowest and went down slowly. I was wondering what I was going to eat, but in a moment I realized that there was not much choice for me. Most of the places were on the second floor or underground. Even first floor diners and cafés had one or two little stairs to get in. Even huge franchise stores around Seoul don’t have facilities for the disabled, let alone small cafés at SMU. There are 23 Starbucks stores in Seoul Seocho-gu, but 8 stores had no incline for a wheelchair or elevator, and 15 had no restroom for the handicapped.6 After lunch, I wanted to blow the day’s stress by shopping, but I couldn’t even get in the shop because the owner gave me the “get out” look. Nam (45), owner of a shop said, "It is difficult to install an incline for disabled people because it will block people walking by. And if the store is small, it’s hard to welcome them since the wheelchair takes up the whole space and might get the store dirty due to the wheels.”
04 : 00 PM
I needed to visit the post office, so I tried to go to the third floor of the Student Union Building. Because the building did not have any elevators it was harder to reach the destination. I finally got near the third floor but the only incline that can roll wheels was very steep and bumpy. This was clearly an incline to carry luggage, not a human. It was not only this spot. Some of the inclines were where they should be for convenience to transport things, not for wheelchairs. Using that slope, it felt weird, feeling like nothing more than a piece of luggage.
5 : 30 PM
After this hard day, I met my friend while I was passing by. My friend was standing so I had to look up for eye contact. I nearly had cervical disk problem from looking up all day, so at the end, being so tired, I looked down and talked to my friend’s belly. Things would have been much easier if she had bent her waist a little bit more.
After Living One Day in a Wheelchair
Have you seen lots of people riding wheelchairs? They tend to avoid going out. Choi Bokchon, head of one disabled center said, “Going out is not daily life for the disabled—it is more like a festival. They have to face the unsafe facilities society prepared for them and those negative eyes of people.”7 Some universities do not even give disabled students using wheelchairs the opportunity to study. Methodist Theological University was criticized for giving an F score to a student in a wheelchair. The university excused themselves by saying that they do not have enough convenient facilities to take care of him. Yet, the university was doubted by its student union that they selected only disabled students able to walk, such as people impaired in vision or hearing. The day in a wheelchair was one of the hardest days in my life. Things I didn’t mind before mattered so much with no legs, and I was able to be thankful to every little thing that I have. In Korea, convenient facilities for the disabled are getting better, and the society is trying to delete discrimination on them. Yet, by experiencing the day, I felt that Korean society was not quite ready for them yet. It was not convenient at all, and one thing I noticed when on the wheelchair was that, people stared at me as an odd one out, which made me feel like I did something wrong when I didn’t do anything. If I were really injured, I would rather fully take cyber lectures or take time off, seriously.
1 Kim Jisoo, “90% of the Disabled from Acquired Reasons,” Yonhap News, 2012.04.19
2 Han Jungjae, “Controversy on the Abolition of Subway Free Ride,” Able News, 2012.11.21
3 Jung Sukman, “Need for Institutional Support on Development of Cars for the Disabled,” Asia Today, 2012.12.12
4 Same as footnote 2
5 Park Sanghee, “Beautiful World – World’s Raised Spot,” Gruwater, 2005
6 Seo Hana, “30% of Starbucks Store not Available for the Disabled,” Able News, 2011.07.15
7 Choi Bokchon, “Hoping for a confident Going Out of Disabled People,” Kukmin Daily, 2013.01.02