Video: Subway protest by disabled activists, calling upon the presidential candidates. Credit: Solidarity Against Disability Discrimination.
Since February 3, Solidarity Against Disability Discrimination (SADD) 전국장애인차별철폐연대, a disability rights organization, has been waging a protest for disability rights by taking the subway during the rush hour. The protest is simple yet disruptive: even on a good day, the Seoul subway system in the morning involves a sea of people who have to wait several trains to pass before getting on; having a row of wheelchairs in the narrow platform, gradually getting onto the subway one by one, is enough to cause significant delay.
Although public transit accessibility in South Korea has seen improvement in recent years, there is still a long way to go. Subways and buses are the main modes of transport for the capital area’s 26m denizens, nearly 450k of whom are mobility-disabled. Yet out of 275 subway stops in Seoul, 21 have no elevators. Only 57.8% of the buses are equipped with lifts. The staircase lifts in the subway stations malfunction frequently, leaving the disabled stranded or, in one case, killed when the guardrail failed in the Oido 오이도 station on Line 4 in 2001.
Protesters are demanding the government address weak points in the Act on Enhancing the Convenience of Mobility for Transportation Disabled 교통약자이동편의증진법, which took effect in 2006. The law underwent a major revision last year, mandating lifts for city buses and allowing government subsidies for taxicabs equipped with ramps for the disabled. But the revision did not cover inter-city buses, and the subsidies are discretionary rather than mandatory. On February 10, the Seoul city government promised to install elevators in all subway stations and equip all city buses with lifts by 2025, and increase the availability of taxicabs with ramps.
For their work, SADD has faced significant hostility from all directions. Each time SADD has waged a protest, Seoul Metro 서울교통공사 has announced on their official social that “normal service is disrupted because of illegal protests by disabled groups.” The group’s posters in the subway stations are frequently vandalized. Its homepage is subjected to cyber attacks, and its office has received arson threats.