Living in Harmony With Disabled
By Kim Song-ah
Looking back on my childhood, I have some unforgettable memories from when I was living away from my parents.
When I was quite young, I lived with my grandparents. Their house was nestled in a small but beautiful village surrounded by mountains.
In my neighborhood, the village head and his wife lived with his brother, whose hearing was impaired.
Although he was physically challenged, he was very kind. He frequently doled out candy to kids in the village. He often allowed my sister and me to climb up on his back, something that's usually reserved for fathers and their biological children.
Another man, who suffered from cerebral palsy, was living in a town just next to mine. Whenever he tried to speak, his face made an expression that was enough for me to learn that speaking was a tough job for him.
One day, he found my grandmother's purse, which had been stolen, in a market. After that, he frequently visited my home and helped with such household chores as mowing the lawn around the house. In addition, he also shared funny stories with my sister. Because of these experiences, spending time with the disabled was never uncomfortable for me, unlike other people.
When I advanced to a middle school, however, I faced a surprising scene that cannot be acceptable, involving a mentally challenged girl in my class.
My classmates harassed, mocked, and even spanked her. This situation continued even off the campus, teaching me that the disabled can be the butt of all jokes and suffer incessant discrimination and denigration. Asked the reason for their teasing, one of my friends said, "Because it's very funny!"
Funny? Their constant harassment without a specific reason was a real shame to me.
Another experience with disabled students at my current school comes to mind. My high school has plenty of brilliant children from my province. It has one special education class set aside for mentally challenged students.
Compared with the other students, they lag behind in terms of scholastic aptitude and achievement. They usually study with their special education teacher. Then they come and join us in regular classes for two or three hours a day.
But nobody, classmates and teachers alike, cares about their presence in the class. It seems that their presence in regular classes originates from the school rule mandating it.
Unlike my middle school friends, no one teases them at all. Frankly, we are rather indifferent to them. When they are with us in a regular class, I often wonder if they are following what the teacher is explaining. The curriculum in a regular high school is quite tough even for kids without disabilities.
A question arises. What on earth is the meaning of their presence in regular classes? The school authorities seem to focus more on average kids' exam results and achievements rather than those of the mentally challenged kids.
Schools should raise their level of awareness about how to live with the disabled in harmony. Putting in more time to understand and support disabled students is necessary.
Durin g an intramural sporting event, we had a chance to participate in a wheelchair race and walk blindfolded. It was a very strange but valuable experience to know what it was like to live as a disabled person.
Since then, many of my friends have come to understand the circumstances the disabled face. This was a very practical and educational experience we had within our curriculum. Thanks to that experience, I learned that schools can play a useful role in helping and understanding the disabled.
To make a change leading toward a more harmonious society, efforts from both the government and citizens are needed. However, in every corner of our society, we can do something to make small changes. While I was living with the disabled during my childhood, I learned naturally how to live with them without harboring any prejudices against them. Also experiences during school events helps to raise our level of awareness in understanding the world of the disabled.
Besides, many experts need to find better ways to integrate the disabled into the regular school curriculum. School authorities should teach not only the knowledge necessary for university entrance exams but also knowledge that might help the disabled.
Kim Song-ah is a senior attending the Affiliated High School to Korea National University of Education in North Chungcheong Province. He can be reached at kk―email@example.com.