Saturday, October 4, 2008

Day 5, Seoul: Visiting Deaf Women Students at Nodl

Today, Mijoo Kim and Bogjoo assisted with setting up a gathering of about 10 women deaf college students (plus two young deaf men) at the Nodl offices near the Hyewha train station. Several belong to the Korean Deaf Student Association, which counts somewhere between 200-300 members in Seoul and 700 nationwide. The majority of students did not sign, but at least three definitely used KSL. Their majors included: art, social work, digital design, family welfare, painting, computer science and sociology.

The meeting included no less than four support staff to facilitate communication: one spoken Korean/English translator (Sunghee), one ASL interpreter (Bridget), one KSL/ASL interpreter (Kyunghee), and one CART-style typist, whose typed words in Korean were projected on the wall (this was the favored way for the students to follow the conversation). In the following group picture of the meeting, the three interpreters are at the farthest left, and the typist is in white at the farthest right:

The group also included a pair of deaf twins who are in the front, second and third left from me.

During introductions, the students brought up at least three areas of concern. First, they were concerned about employment for young Deaf women. Second, they were concerned about English proficiency exams that include a listening component. And third, they were curious about the status of Deaf women and women with disabilities in the US.

I was asked about the support services I had received as a college student in the US, and I responded that I had tried an FM system, and that I had used notetakers, but the expectation was that I had to find my own notetakers. At the time, I didn't think this was right and that actually it is the job of the counselor to help me find appropriate notetakers. I also had the option of CART. When I was a senior, other Deaf students in the UC system also had problems with Deaf services and filed a class action lawsuit against the University. I testified about the notetaker issue. Eventually, the students won the lawsuit and now the University must follow the court agreement for improved services.

In Seoul, Deaf student services depend on the school (this is similar to the US). They have CART-type services, as well as notetakers, and depending on the school, KSL interpreters. Notetaking services are limited and the students have to ask for help from other students (sounds familiar to me!). The CART-style typists have to be certified, and this is the preferred means of communication for the students, particularly those who do not use KSL. The typists are usually part-time college students, who are best because they understand the courses. One student pointed out that at her school, they have 40 deafstudents, most of whom do not know KSL. They have five interpreters and nine typists.

One student went to UCLA for a year and used their services, and came back here and demanded better services. She wants pretty much nothing less than perfect word to word communication in her classes---which she does deserve as a human being.

English testing posed an interesting and significant challenge for these students because in Korea, in order to graduate from college, one must take and pass an English proficiency test with a certain minimum score. Not only that, but the score also is placed on your resume. The test is used as a factor in businesses determining whether a job candidate is desirable. Deaf students' scores are lower because even though they may be perfect on the written exam, they fail the listening part. The student who went to UCLA even wrote to the US test companies to demand a written equivalent for the listening component, to no avail. I think this is something that could perhaps be addressed by the US National Association of the Deaf and, possibly, the World Federation of the Deaf, if it is not already.

Employment is another area where the English tests are being used against the students, specifically in term of promotion exams, a common practice at many workplaces in Korea. Because the students cannot pass these with flying colors, they cannot be promoted. In addition, they face communication barriers with management. The students would like supports such as CART style services at meetings. Some Deaf do find jobs at small firms, but this group felt that it was people with less significant or apparent disabilities that tended to get good jobs. The inability to use a telephone is a huge liability for many employers.

On women's issues: I asked the group if it was ok that the male students remain because I wanted to ask about women's issues, or whether they should leave. The group agreed that the male students could stay. I then asked, in a general way, what the group felt were issues affecting Deaf women specifically. Interestingly enough, after a pause, one of the male students spoke and stated that even though he was a man, he was interested in women's issues. But, he pointed out, Koreans live in a Confucian society and so "women's issues" tends to mean sexual issues. His female friends who are Deaf experience shame about reaching puberty and are too afraid to talk about it with their parents, who are not forthcoming. So Deaf people in general will get sex ed info from their friends. Most rarely get sex education and are clueless about their bodies.

A girl then pointed out that there are many sexual violence acts in Korea against women with mental disabilities (I think she means congnitive). I asked why, and she responded that women in general are the weaker minority, and that these women cannot speak for themselves, that society looks down on them. (I am reminded of a story Kyunghee told me about a Deaf woman who was raped by six men about 10 years ago, because they knew that she could not speak.)

This same girl also told the story of how she was working part-time at a factory and the supervisor told her he would like to meet her alone in another place. He stalked her by text messaging her all the time and she felt humiliated. She said that basically, men oppress people with disabilities, and she is worried that she will not be sfae no matter where she works. She felt powerless as an employee, and was worried about rumors about her reputation.

Another woman commented that sexual harrassment happens a lot on the job in Korea.

Someone else mentioned that she has a boyfriend, and her boyfriend looks down on her---she does not feel equal to her boyfriend. Marriage in Korea is not about two people; it is about two families coming together. Often, families will refuse to have a son or daughter marry a person with a disability.

I asked the group of they thought it would be hard to find someone to date or marry, and the general consensus was yes. Not only is there the family issue, but Deaf women in general want to marry hearing men, thinking communication would be easier and the husband can help the wife. However hearing men often also don't treat Deaf women well, mostly because of communication barriers.

One woman mentioned that she met her boyfriend's mother, who seemed all right at the time. However later she heard that the mother, if they got married, would blame her for anything going wrong with their children, because she could not hear when a child had problems or needed a doctor. In Korea there is a significant lack of information about and access to Korea-compatible assistive technology devices such as baby alarms and light alerts that help Deaf parents in the US. In fact, in ordering assistive technology from the US from companies such as Harris, a Deaf person may actually have to order all versions of one product to see if it may or may not work on Korean electric standards.

At this point, we ended the session with questions and a group photo, and we had juice in the hall at Nodl while the Nodl Popular School students were coming in to class. Later, Kyunghee, a WDACN Deaf worker, Bridget and I went for sukiyaki, where we were joined by the WDACN worker's friend, who has paralysis on one side. Here is Kyunghee, Ga Eun, her friend and Bridget in Hyewha:

Kyunghee, Ga Eun, friend and Bridget in Hyewha

Here I am with Ga Eun, her friend and Bridget:

Amber, Ga Eun, friend and Bridget

Then the women went off to Insadong to handle a little more shopping, and Ga Eun and I visited a comic museum, which was stuffed with figures and posters and cost about 84 cents to get in:

Comic figure standing amid cartoon museum collection

Here is Ga Eun inspecting the museum:

Ga Eun at cartoon museum

Shortly afterwards, Bridget and I headed home ("home") to Gangnam and got some rest. Oh, believe it or not, Gangnam and the surrounding area is like our Beverly Hills, home of the rich and famous---not that we would recognize them! We are spending the next day on shopping, for the most part, so will skip one day for the next blog post. For October 6, we are scheduled to visit the Seoul Sexual Violence Center and drop by a women with disabilities conference. Our last day in Seoul! For readers, know that I will continue to add more to this blog concerning visits on Day 2, so I look forward to passing that on. Until's after 11 at night here and about 10 am back home...bedtime!


PhilosopherCrip said...

were there any transformer pants at the comic store?

joking aside, that sounds like a very moving meeting you had about gender power relations and disability. wow...

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