The fifth instalment of my interview series provides a rare insight into the challenges facing Korea’s disabled population. Suh Kwang Ho, 37, was born with Cerebral Palsy and is confined to an electric wheelchair. Despite physical limitations, Kwang Ho is an extremely active individual. He holds a Master’s degree, regularly attends group language lessons, freelances for technology magazines, and maintains a comprehensive blog about changes in the web design industry. Like his role model, Stephen Hawking, Kwang Ho is eager to dispel illusions that the physically disabled are anything less than able when it comes to brain power.After doing quite a few of these interviews, I want to make it clear at this point that all of the people I have talked to are proud to be Korean and love their country. The topic being discussed is an unfortunately negative aspect of Korean culture, and therefore elicits appropriately negative responses. Note: None of these people speak English as a first language. They are of varying English proficiency levels from beginner to very advanced and in some cases translation was needed. To improve readability and cohesiveness, some gramatical edits have been made where necessary. In no way has meaning or context been altered.
Suh Kwang Ho, 37
Web Programmer and Freelance Writer
What Causes Pressure in Korean Society?
Korea’s President, Lee Myun Bak [is the cause of pressure] in Korea. People hate him – not all of them, but most people hate him. He tries to control both the press and society. People are not free, and they cannot talk freely. He will also try to control social networks in the future. By controlling Yoido [the broadcasting center of Seoul], he can control society.
What Kind of Personal Pressure Do You Feel?
I am a disabled man. Public transport is extremely difficult in Korea – there are not many busses for disabled men. Three years ago I went to St. Louis, Missouri to visit my sister. There I could take a bus very easily, and the bus driver was very kind. But in Korea, taking a bus is not easy, and the drivers are not kind. When the busses are very crowded it is the worst. When they are not crowded, people can be kind, but Korean people live bali bali (quickly quickly). When I ride a bus, it is very slow – it takes a long time for me to get on and off. People get annoyed very quickly. It is stressful for me to move around.
People’s attitudes must change about the disabled. Many people in Korea suppose that a disabled man does not have any abilities, but the disabled are the same [as other people]. I am maybe not so smart, but I have been writing magazine articles in Korean for the last 2 years. I also want to be a good writer in English, but it is difficult.
It is also difficult for a disabled man to get a job. After I graduated from university, I didn’t get a job for a long time, maybe 1 or 2 years. People see a disabled person and they think he isn’t able. They only see my body, not my brain. They also think that I cannot communicate with other people.
I finally got a job in 2000 by sending my resume to online sites. Even now that I have a lot of experience, getting a job is not so easy. This is the situation.
What is your solution?
It’s a difficult question. Maybe I can go abroad. It might be possible to have a normal life in Korea, but not yet. Maybe when this government is gone. Before he was elected president, Lee Myun Bak said if a woman gets pregnant with a disabled baby, the baby should be killed. I hate him. Really. It’s terrible.
Things are a little better than before, when I first came to Seoul (in 1999). At that time, when I crossed the street people looked at me very strangely. They looked at me like it was a museum. Now it is better though.
If possible, I would like to live abroad – maybe the USA or Canada. Is Canada good for a disabled man? The cold is no problem, I just hate hot weather. I heard that the Internet is not so fast though. If that’s true I will hate it!
I want to have a normal life and I want to be a better writer.