On March 12th, a procession of wheelchairs emerged on subway Line 5 from Dongdaemun History & Culture Park Station to Yeouido Station. 30 members of the Seoul Solidarity Against Disability Discrimination (SADD) staged a protest aiming to raise awareness on the mobility rights for disabled. The activists continued the protest embarking and disembarking at every station to publicize this problem.
The background of this protest began six years ago. In 2015, the Seoul Metropolitan City pledged ‘The Declaration of the Mobility Rights for the Disabled’ which encompasses expanding accessible transportations for the disabled and installing elevators in every subway station. However, to date, fewer than 60% of Seoul’s buses are accessible by wheelchairs and some subway stations lack elevators. Furthermore, the projects for the disabled’s mobility have been suspended since the former Seoul mayor’s passing.
What physically challenged people face every day is far from convenient. The owner of YouTube channel Ham-bak TV and a wheelchair user who travels by public transportation, Ham JeongGyun had an experience of waiting for two hours to catch a wheelchair-accessible bus. Also, he could not use the call taxi for the disabled because he was determined as class-three physical disability, which is not qualified to use a call taxi. He said “I can’t move easily to wherever I want to go because of limited public transits. The number of non-step buses are inadequate, and boarding equipment of buses often break down so people in wheelchairs cannot take them.”
The protest for mobility rights this year wasn’t the first of its kind. Last year and year before, the fight for their rights always has existed. Especially, this year marks the 20th anniversary of the ‘Oido Station accident’; an elderly disabled couple died after falling from the obsolete stairlift. The fundamental cause of this accident was careless facility management, insufficient legislation and unstructured system for the people with disabilities. After this accident, the awareness of the disabled’s mobility rights rose rapidly. The ‘Transportation Convenience Law for the Weak’ was enacted in 2005, elevators were placed at stations in earnest and non-step buses were introduced. But as citizen’s attention toward mobility rights has been transient, the government was apathetic to the maintenance of facilities and consequently another falling accident occurred in Singil station in 2017. For 20 years, while public’s concerns have waned consistently, physically challenged people kept speaking out and raising their voices. Nevertheless, the community doesn’t have much interest toward this issue, nor the government. The public’s indifferent reaction was also reflected in the media. Only a few articles covered the demonstration of disabled’s mobility rights and subway passengers mostly complained about the inconvenience of delayed subways.
Mobility rights are fundamental human rights that should be surely granted for everyone regardless of physical capabilities. Disabled people’s ability to move should depend on their will, not obstacles in their environment. Therefore, each country shoulders a responsibility to assure their rights, preferentially by reforming public transits. In order to do that, governments need to proceed the projects of disabled’s mobility right which have been suspended and create the institutions that can focus on the disabled’s mobility rights.
By Shin Yura Cub Reporter