The story below is about Park Seong-joon, a handicapped student’s day.
Just like the other days, Park shows up in front of Dongguk Hall’s elevator. He is waiting in line to take the elevator. As usual, he has to wait for quite a while because there are so many people in the line. In time, he gets his turn to use the elevator. He says to himself, “I should be satisfied with the current situation. What if I had to go to Munhwa Hall? I cannot imagine that.” He finally arrives in the classroom. But he notices that he forgot to bring the papers needed for class. He goes to one of standing PCs to print. Since he cannot use it as sitting down on his wheelchair, he asks other students to print out for him. He comes back to the class room and sees professor comes in to start the class. Park gets in to his place and starts to pay attention to the lecture. After 30 minutes, he feels his stomach ache and wants to go to the bathroom. However, there are no bathrooms he can use in Dongguk Hall. “I am on the horns of a dilemma,” he thinks to himself.
Under the statutes of the university, handicapped students should not be limited from any school activities, such as taking classes, joining clubs, using the library, having meals and so on. However, as the story above, there are students who suffer in the campus. The students suffering inconveniences vary, from injured to handicapped. In Dongguk University’s Seoul Campus, there are a total of 12 handicapped students, and 11 are enrolled as students for this semester. Most of them are physically challenged, but there are no students who have trouble in seeing or hearing. Their disability degrees are diverse, ranging from one to six.
To help handicapped and injured students, Dongguk created SCSD (Support Center for Students with Disabilities) and the programs in the Health Service Center; two centers have tried to make great efforts to improve the campus life for handicapped students. First, the SCSD has launched programs that can help handicapped students, including having students or experts as helpers. Also, the SCSD and Health Service Center lend out wheelchairs and crutches to students in need. The school provides tuition assistance to handicapped students within Dongguk’s annual budget. The school’s efforts above are based on the general principle of Dongguk University. It reads “The school offices’ main purpose should be at meeting of educational concerns and guaranteeing education service.”
However, there are still some problems that give discomfort to handicapped students. First, there are systematic problems. Dongguk has systems such as SCSD, but the number of the staff and items are limited. Due to the fact that there are only three staff members who are in charge of the SCSD, it is not easy to follow the general rule above. Park Seong-joon said that he understands that the staffs whole-heartedly try to help him and he emphasized that he does appreciate it a lot. “Still, there are some limitations because there are only three of them. Since Ihave trouble in moving, six other staffs had to come for an aid,” he added. Also, although Dongguk provides rental service for injured and handicapped students in emergencies, there are only two wheelchairs and four crutches available which is far from enough.
It is not only the problems of the system but also the infrastructure. As mentioned above, students face hard times walking around the campus since the campus is located in a high rise. The real problem is that the school has installed a lot of stairs. Handicapped or injured students sometimes have to go a long way round to get to class because of the stairs. Despite many stairs, elevators are not available everywhere. There are no elevators in the Main Hall, Gyesan Hall, and Student Hall. Since the Health Service Center is located in Main Hall’s second floor, getting to the Health Service Center is not easy. The Student Hall consists of one story below ground and seven stories above, yet there is no elevator. There would be no way for the physically challenged to go up the floors to join clubs or see performances in the small theater. Moreover, several door threshold still exist. The bathroom of Dongguk Hall on first floor not only has a threshold, but also a narrow doorway to get in the bathroom. In fact, there are only three buildings that have bathrooms for the handicapped in campus, and they are Manhae Hall, Hyehwa Hall, and New Engineering Building. “I cannot go to the bathroom when my classes are in Dongguk Hall since it takes too much time to go to Manhae or Hyehwa Hall,” Park said.
The third factor that should be improved in campus is the awareness. According to General Girl Student Council President Choi Eun-mi, many non-handicapped students think handicapped students as different or pitiful. She pointed out that, “Handicapped students are students who have less right for learning and mobility.” Also, Park indicated that “Offering school fee assistance is appreciated. However, what I need more is better facility. Due to wrong perceptions, people easily think that compensation for handicapped would be the answer.” Changing perception would be the first step in solving all the problems.
Dongguk can make realistic efforts to become a better campus for all students in terms of infrastructure and system. There are some specific ways and examples that school can follow. First, from the aspect of infrastructure, more elevators, ramps, and handles could be provided in several places around campus to overcome the geographic factor. These changes are not easy to implement, and many other universities that have similar geographic factors as Dongguk have not completely overcome these challenges yet. Nevertheless, the school should consider more solutions to overcome these shortcomings in infrastructure. Sungshin Women’s University, for example, is built on hilly ground, and it causes many students to face discomforts. However, Sungshin tried to get over the challenges by placing the Support Center for the Students with Disabilities on the first floor of the Student Hall. Thus many handicapped students could reach the center easily.
Furthermore, helping handicapped students by registering for courses can be another improvement to the system. Since all the classes are located in different buildings and floors, handicapped students might suffer from the inconvenience. Hence, they would not want to move to the next classroom within a short period of time and that is the reason why school should provide a concrete solution. SCSD helps students register for courses, but it is limited only to students who have visited the SCSD. Therefore, school should develop a system which can be applied to all handicapped students without the need to visit the campus physically. Yonsei University has been operating this system since 2011. If the system above is not accepted, Dongguk can allow handicapped students to be added only if they require for the help after registering for courses.
Finally, Dongguk University’s SCSD has to be more proactive in efforts to promote and protect the rights of the students. The campus office of Sogang University is responsible for assisting disabled students regularly by recruiting students and staff who are willing to help. In addition, there are meetings with parents of handicapped students to discuss issues that affect handicapped and injured students, and also about the ways to reduce these obstacles. This is very significant because the activities of these offices can help find more ways to address the problems of protecting the rights of students with special needs.
Essential rights of students should be protected. Every Dongguk University student, according to Choi, “must have the same rights to learn and access regardless of age, physical and mental state, background, and social position.” However, these rights are still not guaranteed to those that really need them. Dongguk should consider more of the causes which create difficulties on students. Now is the time to improve the infrastructure, systems and services to benefit every student on campus.
Kim Ji-yeon firstname.lastname@example.org
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