09-07-2007 17:37
Physically Challenged Say Disability is Not Inability

By Bae Ji-sook
Staff Reporter

A disability is not an inability and disabled people are blessed with different abilities from non-disabled people, Khalfan Khalfan, chairperson of the Zanzibar Association of the Disabled in Tanzania, said Thursday.

Khalfan is one of the participants in the 7th Disabled Peoples International (DPI) World Assembly 2007 being held in Goyang, Gyeonggi Province, through Saturday.

More than 2,500 people, both disabled and non-disabled from 71 countries, are attending the gathering at the Korea International Exhibition Center, and were seen chatting, taking photographs, going to seminars, embracing and introducing each other. ``I really feel comfortable to feel like an ordinary person here, as I see so many like me,'' a Korean participant who came from Daegu said.

Under the theme of ``Our Rights, Our Convention, But For All,'' the members of DPI discussed ways to let each country's government implement policies to enhance the quality of life for the disabled.

It is the first time the DPI members have all gathered to discuss further measures for the United Nation's adoption of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in December 2006.

Lee Ick-seop, chairperson of DPI Korea, said the organization will hold campaigns to press policymakers to adopt the convention in Korea, too. This is the first time the assembly has been held in Korea, and he said the event will be a good stepping stone for people to acknowledge the disabled and their problems.

Lee is visually challenged and said though Korean society was considering disabled people's lives to some extent, there's much more left to be done. ``I still see buildings without a spiral rise for wheelchairs or Braille typed instructions. I see my friends deprived of jobs, pensions and friendship with others. Some say we have come a long way, but I still see much ahead,'' he said.

Kalle Konkkola from Finland, said it's time physically challenged people were guaranteed the right to live like other people. The Nordic country is famous for its well-built social welfare system and is ahead of many other countries in its policies for the disabled, but Kalle said people should be guaranteed work. ``It's not only about money, but it will give my fellows the chance to be with non-disabled people,'' he said.

So, what will be the best way to let people know about them? Konkkola said it is for the non-disabled to see disabled people everywhere, not just on special occasions such as the assembly.

``Once, a little boy saw me waiting for my wife in front of a store and told his mum `Look mum, there's a Santa Clause sitting in front of the store!' It was wonderful that he was not scared of me,'' he said. ``I am sure he had seen many people like me.'' Konkkola suffers from a muscle disorder.

On Saturday, the assembly announced a declaration of rights for all the disabled people in the world, including 4 million in Korea.

bjs@koreatimes.co.kr