Disabled people are protesting to demand the abolition of the disability rating and defend their human rights.
/Photography from the Solidarity Against Disability Discrimination
Have you ever seen any disabled people holding a picket demanding the abolition of the disability rating in front of the Gwanghwamun? Actually, they have strongly urged the abolition for about ten years. On March 5th, four days before the PyeongChang Paralympic Games was held, the government proposed to gradually remove the disability rating system from July, 2019. The Paralympic Games is not only a sport event that the disabled can participate in, but also an event aiming to eliminate the prejudices and discrimination of disabled people. Going with this stream, the abolition of the disability rating system also took a step forward to improve recognition of the disabled alike the successful Paralympics. Over a decade, the disabled asserted to abolish the system, saying it violates their human rights, but nothing has changed. However, as the revocation of the disability rating was one of the President Moon Jae-in’s election pledges, it was included in his 100 national agenda. Now, one year after he became the president, the abolishment of the rating was finally decided. Then, what exactly is the disability rating and what kind of problems the disabled had to confront in past years?
What is disability rating?
The disability rating started in 1989 as it was included in the Welfare of Disabled Persons Act. It grades disabled people with medical criteria on scale of one to six: one to three classified as severe disability and four to six as mild disability. This system would seem efficient to control the disabled, but they explained that the rating came from selfishness of the government. Park Hyun, the Vice President of Peer Counselor Committee in Korea Council of Centers for Independent Living (KCIL), said, “Above all, idea of ‘controlling’ the disabled is inappropriate. Making a better society for us is the government’s duty. They should not categorize us for their convenience.” The fact that the government left the matter of abolishment of the rating alone for a decade can be understood that they lacked concern of the handicapped. Due to several reasons, the handicapped had some difficulties so they consistently contended the abolition of the rating system.
The handicapped suffered from the disability rating system over decades
The main cause of the difficulties is the criteria of grading. The Welfare of Disabled Persons Act explains the disability is only based on medical category and rating. Nevertheless, disability cannot be judged only by medical criteria since a lot of other factors such as financial situation or family relations affect the handicapped even more than the disability itself. For instance, if an impoverished mildly disabled needs more welfare service than severely disabled who is wealthier, it is nearly impossible for the former to get more services. Depending on the Act, mildly disabled is considered to be in a better condition than severely disabled. Therefore, the welfare service remains too standardized and cannot concern the personal circumstances. Park Hyun of KCIL mentioned, “My disability rating is level one. However, people with the same level have personal differences. Some can use the subway, but some need to use special transportation such as call taxi for the disabled. In addition, financial support has to be different according to the possibility of labor, though it is not considered at all because we have the same grade. Hence, although there are such differences, we are all treated as ‘medically’ level one.” Unless many disabled people demanded to consider individual environment, from 1989, the basic form of this Act grading only by medical criteria has not changed for about 30 years.
Furthermore, the examination process of the disability rating is not clear enough. The examination for the rating goes along like this. First, the person has to submit medical certificate or test results about disability to the dong office. After that, the National Pension Service, which is the official rating agency, evaluates the documents and finally determines the grades. This process has to be done again to get new services or regularly in some types of disability. Cho Hyun-soo, the activist of Solidarity Against Disability Discrimination (SADD), commented, “This strengthened system was conducted from 2010. From that time, many handicapped people started to be afraid that their grade can change every time they go through the examination."
Besides, rating the disability just through the documents such as examination results has limitation. Since the criterion of specific examples lack and doctor in the National Pension Service varies, the judgment of the symptoms varies as well. Even worse, if the diagnosis of the document and the doctor in the National Pension Service are different, the former one is not reflected on the result. Further, this process means the disabled have to prove their disabilities to the government by themselves. The expenses of examination are of course theirs.
Lastly, the disabled kept requesting to consider about “grading” people. It may be different for each person to grade something, but usually it is used for domestic animals or goods, not humans. That is, the disability rating system was just made to classify and handle the disabled better without thinking of their human rights. Cho Hyun-soo added “We call this the ‘chain of the stigma.’ The reality of the disabled is veiled by their disability levels so we cannot exactly see their personal circumstances. For example, think of someone calling to ask for using some facilities. Now, they are asked of the disability grades. However, if there are no grades, they will be asked of individual situations.” The fact of grading people was a big factor that led them to express their unpleasant feeling. Consequently, due to their consistent demand, the gradual abolition of the disability rating was decided and new welfare policy will appear starting from next July.
From standardized to personalized welfare service
The fifth General Disability Policy Proposal that the government set up every five years in regard to the Welfare of Disabled Persons Act was held on March 5th. On that day, the abolishment of the disability rating system and 22 major and 70 specific goals across five sectors were discussed with the Prime Minister Lee Nak-yeon. The five sectors are health and welfare, education and culture, income and economic participation, advancement of general rights, and social participation. Setting an embracing society with self-reliance of the disabled as a goal, they determined to substitute comprehensive assessment for the current rating system. Thus, they will categorize the assessment and offer services. At first, in July 2019, the government is going to support daily life of the handicapped like providing assistive devices. In 2020, mobile support such as call taxi for the disabled and two years later, pension system as income and economic support will be implemented.
The government announced they would continuously communicate with the disabled through public-private consultative organization as they have done six times from last October to accept the demand of disabled people. Plus, they are trying to constitute and manage an expert committee including relevant authorities and private experts. The Prime Minister Lee Nak-yeon commented, “Through this personalized policy and services for 2.5 million handicapped people, we hope the society can guarantee the dignified life of the disabled.” These actions from the government were rated highly from the disabled, but as this policy is a matter of life or death to the disabled, they expressed some concerns.
The change in policy is not really satisfying the disabled
After the government announced that they will abolish the disability rating, while compliment existed, criticism also came out. First, another stigma effect was one of their concerns. According to the announcement, the word “disability rating” is changing to “degree of disability,” for instance, severely or mildly impaired. Cho Hyun-soo said, “This revision might end at most changing word. If the comprehensive assessment cannot reflect the reality of each handicapped person and just stay in dividing people like severely or mildly impaired, then the abolition becomes useless. Furthermore, this is another stigma which is named differently.” In this respect, some concerned that the abolishment of the disability rating could be just relaxing the policy but not the “real” abolition.
In addition, the most significant problem is the limited welfare budget for the disabled. Compared to the average of OECD countries, the level of Korea’s welfare is far behind it. The average proportion of disabled people among OECD countries is about 12 percent, but Korea has about five percent. Moreover, the welfare budget portion for the handicapped is 0.61 percent beside OECD’s average 2.19 percent. To be legally accepted as the disabled is far more difficult in Korea. However, money used for them is too small. Therefore, to demand the increase of welfare budget to the average of OECD countries, on March 26th, the 2018 Union for the Struggle Against Disability Discrimination, made up with over 50 disabled organizations, was established. They started a protest for an indefinite period demanding the talk with the President Moon on April 20th, day of person with disabilities.
Meanwhile, they criticized the time when the policy would be in effect. Even if the policy of income and employment is the most important one, which is directly related to their lives, according to the road map Ministry of Health and Welfare (MW), the government is planning to institute it in 2022. Park Hyun of KCIL contended, “2022 is the end of the President Moon’s incumbency. Without an increase in budget and postponing the new system until the last year in his presidency, how can we expect the policy would proceed properly?”
At this moment, surrounded by such concerns, public-private consultative organization and the government are adjusting the policy. They still have opinion gap on some core issues. In short, to embrace the demands of the disabled and settle the policy, it still has a long way to go. Park Hyun of KCIL mentioned, “When the government first announced the abolition, many people congratulated me. But when you look inside, you will know this is not yet worthy to celebrate.” A visually impaired student in Dongguk University also said, “Currently, the criteria of grading is vague. So changes regarding disability rating are really needed. I hope the government to apply the new policy carefully and do not make any other confusion.”
Seo Yoo-jeong firstname.lastname@example.org
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