Thursday, July 4, 2013
Progress or Regression?
A columnist of the Catholic Times, on seeing how the the disabled were treated during the Joseon Dynasty, which was the topic of a recent TV history program, was sufficiently surprised to write about it in her column. The disabled, she learned, were excused from many of the duties normally expected from citizens, and those who showed concern for the disabled would be commended, and those who abused them would be seriously punished.
Efforts were also made to help them become independent by giving them positions that fit their specialty, without concern for their place in society but only concerned to utilize their capabilities in the best way possible. For instance, a society for the blind was established, which produced many who went on to become prominent in government. The only thing that separated them from the other citizens was a bodily handicap, and the distress that often accompanies such handicaps. The columnist sadly comments that it seems we have been going backwards as a society in the way we treat the disabled among us.
A famous historical figure, a musician, during the kingship of Sejong the Great, was quoted in the TV program, in reference to what the government was doing for the blind: "There is no one we can dispense with in our society."
She introduces us to Fr. Cyril Axelrod, who is considered by many the Helen Keller of the 21st Century. Both blind and deaf, he came to Korea last month to visit with the Christians and to show them what a disabled person is able to do and to help the Christians achieve a new appreciation of the disabled in our society. He stresses in his talks that his disabilities, like all disabilities, can be incorporated into our lives as blessings.
In Korea, since 2011, over two and a half million citizens have been registered as disabled; each year, as small and serious accidents increase, the number of disabled also continues to increase. Accidents or disease after birth, she says, are responsible for disabling 9 out of 10 Koreans. She feels that being concerned for the welfare of the disabled should not be solely the concern for specially trained people but for all of us, and that our understanding of the disabled also needs to broaden and change if we are to keep pace with the latest knowledge in the field.
but there are still many who are unwilling to accept the disabled as being equally deserving of all the rights of other citizens.
There have been many changes in society but still many have an aversion for the places used by the disabled and this shows in the problems many have in building such facilities. The price of land decreases and many find it uncomfortable to be so near the disabled so they demonstrate against the building of these facilities.
Though we have to come to an understanding that the only difference between the disabled and others is only a matter of degree, we have yet to take the next step, as a society, and act on what we understand.
To repeat the musician's words, the theme of both the TV program and the column: "There is no one that we can dispense with in our society." We Christians, she says, who profess to be light and salt of the earth, should be the first to appreciate what this means.