There has been so much information processing the last couple of days that for now, what I need to do is give a brief recap of the days as they go on and then provide deeper analysis later. Yesterday was spent with back to back meetings and eating out, and there was literally no time to sit down at the end of the day and recap. However, I will say that I have been sincerely impressed by the people Bridget and I have met thus far and I am struck by the significant oppression of people with disabilities in South Korea. I have been impressed by the good humor of many people we have met, but as I mentioned to our wonderful English translator Sunghee Hong, I am also impressed by people's anger and resolve.
In many ways the people here remind me of our American disability community, and likewise have many perspectives on the work of advocacy. But overall, there are some significant differences of culture and timing, most notably that, as the South Koreans mentioned, they have had a history of living under dictatorship, and they must also deal with South Korean family and cultural dynamics that are very different from American traditions.
For a brief recap of today, we visited:
Mr. Yeong-seok Park, Headmaster of the Nodl Popular School
Ms. Yeonghui Kim, Director of the Nodl Independent Living Center
Ms. Kyung Suk Choi, Standing Commissioner for the National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK)
Ms. Mijoo Kim, Director of the Women with Disabilities Arts and Culture Network (WDACN)
Each of these organizations is very different, but all of these advocates are incredibly powerful human beings.
Nodl has different activities, such as a Popular School that provides adults with disabilities with continuing education, since most Koreans with disabilities have little education compared to everyone else. In tandem with the School, the Independent Living Center works to empower people with disabilities to live in the community through personal assistance and other supports. They also serve people who live in institutions.
Here is a group picture of everyone at Nodl:
The man in the wheelchair is Mr. Park, and the woman in the horizontal stripes is Ms. Kim. Bogjoo is in the brown plaid shirt.
Mr. Park is also the leader of the National Solidarity Against Disability Discrimination, and in this capacity has helped to lead some of the most amazing disability rights actions I have ever seen. So much happened in this meeting that I must save a good write up for later, but Korean disability rights protest has involved head shaving and arrest and crawling across bridges and getting hurt by the police, and even some individuals, pushed to the point of desperation, have committed suicide in protest and are remembered as martyrs. He is (yes, Mr. Park, I know! smile) Bogjoo's partner.
Ms. Kim's work is incredibly vital to this process as a lifeline towards independence, even as the resistance goes on. I was very, very honored to meet with this group of people.
Here is a picture of Bridget and I with Commissioner Choi:
Commissioner Choi has served one year of a three year term on the Commission and is the first person with a disability to serve on the Commission. The Commission is responsible for human rights monitoring in South Korea and for investigating cases of abuse. About 90% of their recommendations are accepted. I will also write more on the Commission later, but Commissioner Choi also previously organized women with disabilities out of Busan on the southeastern coast.
At WDACN, we met with Mijoo Kim, who has long been known as an international disability rights advocate. WDACN focuses on employment development for women with disabilities (and without), especially young women. One of her staff is deaf, and Bridget and I spent a nice dinner with Mijoo, her staff, Mijoo's son and daughter, and later met up with another deaf woman, who kindly showed us the way home to our hotel! Mijoo is extremely passionate about bringing women with disabilities employment rights to the consciousness of the global women's community, and for now, I will have to also describe more later. Bridget and I will rejoin several of these women on Saturday as part of a gathering of young Deaf college students.
For today...we are off to meet with leaders of Deaf organizations in Seoul!