Published : 2013-01-27 19:16
Updated : 2013-01-27 19:16
In Korea, there are about 192,000 registered people with intellectual disabilities, a relatively small proportion of the disabled population of 2.5 million. But experts estimate the actual number of the intellectually disabled exceeds 400,000 as many parents are reluctant to admit or disclose that their children are disabled.
The negative perceptions and attitudes in Korean society toward people with intellectual disabilities, who are highly vulnerable as they are generally unaware of their rights, should be changed to treat them as those with special needs. Few Koreans would disagree that, despite its economic ascent on the global stage, the country still lags behind other advanced nations in efforts to support disabled people and guarantee rights for them. Korean society may be considered truly mature when all people with physical or mental disabilities are treated and given opportunities to live as equal members of society.
The Special Olympics World Winter Games, which will open Tuesday for an eight-day run in PyeongChang, Gangwon Province, should serve as a valuable occasion for prompting changes in Koreans’ attitudes toward disabilities.
The event ― which has of course been unfamiliar to most Koreans so far ― is aimed at helping the intellectually disabled improve their physical abilities, adapt socially and prepare themselves for more meaningful and productive lives through engaging in sports. Anyone with an intellectual disability, who is aged 8 or older and has received an eight-week training course, can participate in the competition.
The Special Olympics World Games are held every two years, alternating between summer and winter versions. The first summer event was held in Chicago in July 1968, with the first winter games taking place at a town in Colorado in February 1977.
PyeongChang will host the 10th Special Olympics Winter Games, bringing together more than 3,200 athletes and officials from 111 countries. Over 10,000 volunteers will also participate in the event, which precedes the 2018 Winter Olympics to be staged in PyeongChang. The country conducted its first-ever nationwide survey of people with intellectual disabilities in 2011, a year after it won the right to host the Special Olympics. Korea is the third Asian country to host the event following the 2005 winter games in Japan and the 2007 summer games in China.
PyeongChang has invited athletes and officials from seven developing countries, which have never attended the Special Olympics ― Cambodia, Nepal, Mongolia, Papua New Guinea, Pakistan, Thailand and Vietnam. A day after the opening ceremony, about 300 world leaders will gather at a Global Youth Summit in the mountain town to adopt a declaration on boosting welfare for the intellectually disabled.
The event in PyeongChang, which will be held under the slogan “Together We Can,” can be special not only for participants but also for the whole nation. While cheering for athletes competing to the best of their ability, people may find themselves sharing the same feelings with others beyond their conflicts of interest and different stances. Such a mood is what is now most needed for Korean society, which remains deeply divided along ideological, regional and generational fault lines, as shown in the outcome of last month’s presidential election. The slogan of the PyeongChang Special Olympics, which means working together to discard prejudices and overcome limits, should reverberate beyond the event itself into all Koreans’ hearts.
It is hoped that as many Koreans as possible will go to attend the event and watch disabled athletes engage in competition. By purchasing a 10,000 won ($9) ticket, people will be able to watch all competitions and cultural programs throughout the eight-day event.
What is also necessary is to ensure that heightened attention to people with intellectual and other disabilities will continue to be kept and further enhanced after the Special Olympics. Various programs should be worked out and implemented to encourage more disabled people to participate in physical activity and boost their self-esteem.