Time for Fresh Thoughts on the Welfare for Students with Disability
Time for Fresh Thoughts on the Welfare for Students with Disability
  • Reporter Lee Suh-young
  • 승인 2011.09.28 15:45
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▲ Passive attitude towards people with disabilities. It's times to change.

83.45 out of 100. POSETCH students are the most satisfied in Korea when it comes to the student welfare and scholarships, according to a survey of JoongAng Daily in 2011. Without a doubt, the figure is a reflection of the satisfaction of college life at POSTECH. However, the numbers do not reflect the whole picture. There are students who are easily marginalized and sometimes even thought as passive recipients of welfare : those with disability.

According to the office of Student Affairs, as of Sep. 1, there are 3367 campus students. Of that number, five are disabled. Some of these disabled students have mobility issues that require the use of canes or wheelchairs. For them, access to classrooms and other campus facilities can be more than challenging; it can become a set-back.

Creating a More Accessible University

“It takes more than five minutes to take elevator in Hongil Kim Memorial Hall in order to go upstairs,” said Baek Min-woo (CS, '09). Baek is the first student of POSTECH to use a motorized wheelchair. After deciding upon his entrance, POSTECH invested sixteen million KRW to build ramps at his path pattern. However, there are still many obstacles here and there. When Hogil Kim Memorial Hall was undergoing interal maintenance, the elerator was occupied by workers and equipments. Because of this, when Baek’s wheel chair is in the elevator, there is no remaining space. He is required to fold up the scaffolding and put in the legs and this results in consequent delay time.     

Making a building accessible for those with physical disabilities seems like it would be a basic construction consideration, especially when a good number of people living in Korea are considered physically disabled. Beautiful as it is, the campus of POSTECH is not so disability-friendly. For instance, it is difficult to find braille block for visually impaired persons around the campus.

The university is required by law to provide reasonable accommodations for disabled students. Any university built after 1998 must be fully compliant with the Disabilities Act, which created architecture accessibility standards. In the case of POSTECH, the buildings were built in 1986 before the acts were implemented, besides POSCO International Center, Tae-Joon Park Digital Library, and Residential College (RC).

“It lacks a way for disabled students to reach the second or third floors of Student Union. This is one of the reasons that discourage me from participating in any student groups,” Baek explained regarding the difficulty of the lack of basic facilities. However, newly built facilities are not free from mobility issues either. For example, the newly built POSPLEX forgot to add access gates to the second floor for wheelchairs.

Few and Far Between

“I was supposed to take the Physical Fitness class when I was freshman but I dropped it. I don’t know how I can figure it out,” Baek recalled. Although Student Affairs tries to accommodate students like Baek, the way is far too passive. When Baek got into POSTECH, the university supplied a special room in RC with an adjustable bed for swelling problems and sought out a roommate who can help out in the case of emergency. Obviously, special care is crucial but it is also an indispensable duty to pay attention not to turn it into a lack of consideration or over-protection. Many students are faced with the problem   where they draw the line of helping disabled students without offending them. “I sometimes hesitate to hold the gateway of RC. I don’t know whether it is over kindness,” said Lee Doo-yeol (MSE, '11)

Beyond the Law

“They have to know that it is difficult for a disabled student to make a request,” Baek explained. Currently, there is not even one specialist or administrative division that is exclusively responsible for students with disabilities. Disabled students are required to explain their situation to each department and ask Student Affairs to provide special considerations.

At POSTECH, we cannot expect to see low-floor buses or any kinds of facilities for future disabled students, unless we discard our charity-based attitude where the issues of disabled people are concerned. Low-floor buses are inconvenient and expensive. It takes more time to use and has fewer chairs. However, we have the same possibility that we cannot but depend on low-floor buses.

Needless to say, POSTECH is one of the world’s top universities and we should behave as such if we are proud of this fact. If we consider bringing out the next Nobel Prize winner, we need to build and invest on basic infrastructure attracting accommodation for everyone. We do not know who will be the next Stephen Hawking.

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