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All Humans Have the Right to Move

This year, the Seoul Metro subway service was delayed many times due to a group of disabled protesters. Because of this, the non-disabled continually complained about being late for their work and important appointments. However, the fundamental reason why the disabled consistently protested cannot be ignored. Therefore, the Sungkyun Times (SKT) will look into the concept of mobility rights, the problems surrounding mobility rights of the disabled, and solutions that can guarantee their mobility rights in the future.

Mobility Rights of the Disabled, What Are the Problems?

The Concept of Mobility Rights and Inconveniences of the Disabled

All people have the right to move freely according to their will and without restriction. Article 3 of the Mobility Improvement for Traffic Vulnerable (MITV) states that “the transportation vulnerable have the right to move with all means of transportation, facilities, and roads safely and conveniently without discrimination.” However, despite this law, the disabled are not fully guaranteed mobility rights: public transportation and taxis are difficult to board with wheelchairs, making daily life very uncomfortable. Because of this inconvenience, Mr. A said, in an interview with YTN, that exigencies are “greed that should be disclaimed” for the disabled. Things that are easy for non-disabled people can come to deprive the disabled. Therefore, the Solidarity Against Disability Discrimination (SADD) defines mobility rights of the disabled as a right to guarantee as members of the society and requests to overcome physical constraints in transportation facilities. Like this, the mobility rights of the disabled should be understood as the rights connected directly to survival.

Why the Disabled Community Continually Protest for Mobility Rights

The associations of the disabled, such as SADD, have protested for 20 years, demanding the installation of elevators in subway stations and the introduction of low-floor buses. They had to continue their protest for an extended period because the government did not keep its promises. In 2015, the Seoul Government promised to install elevators in all subway stations until 2022 so that wheelchair users could move directly from the entrance to the platform. However, Seoul’s 2022 budget plan did not include the cost of installing elevators for several subway stations. Seoul Metro revealed that government officials did not approve the budget. Regarding this situation, SADD said, “The promises of the city and government officials were not kept. They were just more empty pledges.” The disabled are now pushing the Ministry of Economy and Finance (MOEF) to secure the budget for actualizing their mobility rights.

Demonstration for Mobility Rights (biz.chosun.com)

Mobility Rights of the Disabled Is Not Being Guaranteed

The Gap between the Goal and Reality

According to the third Plan on MITV (2017-2021) by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport (MOLIT), MOLIT should have introduced 14,576 low-floor buses by 2021 and achieved a 42% of distribution rate. However, the distribution rate of low-floor buses is currently about 28%. Although the low-floor buses are essential for physically disabled people who use wheelchairs, the government did not keep its promise. The cabs specially remodeled for wheelchair users also have a serious problem. The law stipulates that special transportation, including cabs for the disabled, should be secured for one unit per 150 severely disabled people. Still, the actual number of cabs was about 800 units less than the specified standard in 2020. As the number of cabs for the disabled is short, allocation is very slow, taking more than one hour, and it causes inconvenience for the disabled. According to YTN, a wheelchair user said, “If I call a cab at 11 a.m., it often comes one or two hours later.” All these problems are not improving because the department taking charge of the mobility rights of the disabled is absent. Due to this, disabled people find it difficult to assert their rights and pose dissatisfaction. Also, there is a problem with planning and using budgets, making it difficult to manage or repair facilities for the disabled. Eventually, the guarantee of mobility rights of the disabled is continually being delayed, unlike the explicit goal of laws and policies.

Designs Not Considering the Disabled

The Korea Disabled People’s Development Institute assigns a Barrier-free Certification to facilities designed for the disabled to move conveniently. Barrier-free refers to the measure to eliminate physical or mental barriers to disadvantaged people. However, even the facilities with Barrier-free Certifications are uncomfortable for the disabled to use. The low-floor bus, the representative barrier-free traffic, is difficult to board as the angles of buses’ lifts and the heights of door sills differ from bus stops. Even if the disabled can get on on a bus, there is only safety equipment for movable wheelchairs, but nothing for electric wheelchairs that physically challenged people often use. As the standard size of electric wheelchairs is different from buses’ inside and a seat blocks the straps, some disabled have trouble taking buses at all. In addition, the elevators installed in the subway stations have problems, too. It seems to provide convenience to the disabled, but in substance, they often find it hard to turn wheelchairs without others’ help as the entrance and exit doors of elevators are different. This inconvenience also appears when they enter particular facilities. Many facilities are designed to set wheelchair ramps, but these are often unhelpful to the disabled; most ramps are too steep, making wheelchairs’ movements impossible . All of these problems arise because the public do not consider the actual inconveniences and hardships the disabled community goes through.

Unsuitable Ramp for the Disabled (beminor.com)

Inflamed Public Opinions between the Nondisabled

Many non-disabled people are furious that their mobility rights are invaded due to the mobility rights of the disabled. With the frequent subway protest, the public opinion between the non-disabled has worsened, and they are asserting that they are “victims” suffering from the protest. Netizens responded to repeated protests saying, “Is it a protest to interrupt the departure of trains?”, “It is good to protest, but I cannot understand why they protest at busy times.” There was even a national petition titled “Demanding Punishment about the Line 4 Protest of the Disabled That Caused Social Damage” last February, to which about 4,000 people agreed. This indicates that people focused only on the protest itself, not on the fundamental problems of the disabled’s mobility rights. In this regard, one subway engineer criticized the protest posting a short text online on February 12th. He explained, “That protest violated the Railroad Safety Act, so a proper level of law enforcement is required.” Like this, public opinion about the protest worsened, which is the obstacle to guaranteeing the mobility rights of the disabled.

Mobility Rights Must Be Guaranteed

Strong and Specific Laws and Policies

To properly prepare facilities for the disabled, specific laws and policies are necessary. Increasing the number of special transits such as cabs for the disabled can help enhance convenience in part. Still, fundamentally, the reason why disabled people rely on cabs is that there are lots of constraints on taking public transportation. Therefore, public transportation facilities should preferentially be developed to ultimately ensure the mobility rights of the disabled. On December 31st, 2021, the Amendment of the MITV was approved. It mainly includes an article about the obligational introduction of low-floor buses and operating costs of special transits supported by the nation. However, intercity buses are still not included in the obligation of low-floor buses introduction, and the nation’s support is also the optional clause, not mandatory. To solve these problems, more specific solutions should be carried out. By developing various lowfloorbuses such as small and medium-sized ones, they should be able to operate to places where large low-floor buses cannot go at the moment. Later, it will be necessary to introduce additional low-floor buses to the intercity bus routes so that more disabled people can use them conveniently. Furthermore, the department taking charge of the mobility right of the disabled should be established under presidential control directly for the effective guarantee of mobility rights. It will help communication between the disabled and the non-disabled and manage facilities for the disabled effectively. This department will secure enough budget to achieve policies for the disabled by directly communicating with the MOEF.

Designs Considering the Disabled

Mobility rights of the disabled must be substantially guaranteed, not superficially. Therefore, efforts to design buildings and public transportation facilities should be achieved from the perspective of the disabled. Gentle wheelchair ramps for the disabled to go up alone should be enforced, and the entrance and exit doors of the elevators in every subway station should also be on the same side so that the disabled can enter and leave the elevators more easily. In addition, straps in buses ought to be appropriately located, and there should be no difference of height between transportations and the ground when boarding. In this context, there are good German examples. Germany provides several options that make transportation easier for the wheelchair users. Germany not only operates all buses as low-floor buses but also articulated buses. As articulated buses have large spaces inside and separate doors for the disabled, people using wheelchairs can use buses easily. Besides, in Germany, there are some buttons that can slow down the speed of revolving doors and moving walkways, and markings and bells at the level of the disabled using wheelchairs are universal. Quality public transportation and facilities in Korea should also be designed for the disabled to guarantee their mobility rights.

Low-floor Bus in Germany (behindert-barrierefrei.de)

Cooperation between the Non-disabled and the Disabled

People’s Cooperation

In Korea, the wall between the non-disabled and the disabled is still high. Although mobility rights of the disabled must be guaranteed no matter what, wrong public opinions formed due to protests are delaying this. Therefore, in order for the rights of the disabled to be guaranteed truly and quickly, cooperation of the non-disabled is required. The most important element for the cooperation is to make the nondisabledempathize with the inconvenience of the disabled. The disabled should protest peacefully and awaken empathy by using media. In this process, the press will feature the positive sides of the protests. If so, the non-disabled will focus on the fundamental reason why the disabled had to protest and then make efforts with the disabled to improve society. Eventually, setting fair accessibility to transport is suitable for everyone. If communication between the non-disabled and the disabled is achieved successfully, the government will also be able to consider mobility rights more seriously and prepare appropriate policies.

We must focus on why the disabled protest, not on the protest itself. The common goal of the disabled and the non-disabled should be the “guarantee of mobility rights.” Nobody’s rights must be ignored, and everyone needs to be respected. The SKT hopes the day both the disabled and the non-disabled use public transportation equally comes as soon as possible.

홍채린  cinbrhn02@g.skku.edu

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