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South Korea: Steps taken to protect rights of people with disabilities

The National Human Rights Commission of Korea has issued a number of key decisions on protecting the rights of disabled persons that include opportunity in higher education and equal access to commercial facilities

The National Human Rights Commission of Korea has issued a number of key decisions on protecting the rights of disabled persons that include opportunity in higher education and equal access to commercial facilities

The National Human Rights Commission of Korea (‘NHRCK’) has recently issued a number of key decisions on protecting the rights of disabled persons that include opportunity in higher education and equal access to commercial facilities.

“I was the only applicant for the PhD degree but my application was rejected because I have a disability,” claimed Ms. Lee, a 27 year-old who suffers from cerebral palsy who says she was discriminated against due to her illness.

The investigation by the NHRCK confirmed that the admissions committee was suspicious of her ability to collect research materials and used this as a ground for rejection.

The NHRCK concluded that it was in breach of Article 4 of the Disability Discrimination Act to deny an application solely based on the applicant’s physical disability, and recommended the university to withdraw the rejection, provide her with a fair evaluation method to give due consideration of disabled applicants, and have the admissions committee members take human rights courses.

On February 16, another recommendation was made to guarantee the rights of the disabled. The NHRCK recommended the mayor of Daejeon and the steering committee of an underground shopping centre to install facilities to improve accessibility for wheelchair users.

“Due to the lack of a handicap ramp or lift, wheelchair users have difficulty in gaining access in the Daejeon underground shopping centres,” 38 year-old Mr. Chung asserted in the complaint.

It was proved that only five out of 20 exits were accessible for the disabled and they were all located in the centre of a 769 meter-long underground shopping area forcing disabled shoppers to travel 300-400 meters to exit.

Article 2(4) of the National Human Rights Commission Act stipulates that it is considered a “discriminatory act violating the right to equality” to treat a particular person unfavourably based on disability. 

Following the two major recommendations, the NHRCK released on February 17 the results of a special investigation on a group care facility for the disabled in North Jeolla Province. 

The findings included:

  • poor equipment, management and environment; for example, under age females were accommodated with male disabled persons
  • lack of professional staff for the disabled
  • wrongful restraint of the disabled.

The NHRCK recommended the head of the facility to upgrade its equipment and arrange professional staff to care for those with serious disabilities. The county governor was also recommended to transfer those who need everyday care to appropriate facilities and take measures to improve the staff and equipment so that they are in conformity with relevant provisions. 

The NHRCK initiated the special investigation following media coverage on the facility in December 2008 which sparked public concerns about potential human rights violations.

Date: 12 March 2009

Source: NHRCK

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