Tuesday was a great day, because I was with my people – people with disabilities from the Center for Independent Living (CIL). Although they have additional progress to make, they are modeling their activities on the United States disability community and our Centers for Independent Living. It is thrilling to see the birth of this movement in South Korea.
After being greeted at the CIL, we were given a tour of the facility and were introduced to the staff. They were as excited to meet Mary and me, as we were to meet them. It reminded me of what I read about the history of the CIL in Berkeley and the great disability right leaders who started it all—like Ed Roberts and Judy Heumann. Our new friends in Daegu were eager to hear about U.S. policies that lay the foundations for employment. Employment, as you know, is always the issue – unemployment of people with disabilities in South Korea is higher than it is in the U.S.
They are permitted to pay people with disabilities below minimum wage, and women with disabilities even less. Some individuals make only $100 a month.
We took photos everywhere we went with the staff, and I was so honored to see a large banner about the U.S. speaker on each visit that day. In addition, a reporter interviewed me at the CIL and followed me throughout the day. By that afternoon, the story was in the paper!
While we were visiting the CIL, they arranged a meeting for us at a library in Daegu. They wanted us to meet two employees with developmental disabilities that were employed by the library. The chair of the CIL could not find a company for me to meet with that employs people with disabilities!
I was really encouraged when I met the director of the library. He told me that he hired people with disabilties because he believed they should be included in the workforce. I could see he is a real champion trying to make positive change.
The Disability Rights Network sponsored a luncheon for all of us and other disability leaders. This organization was modeled after the Disability Rights Network in the U.S., but it lacks enforcement power. We dined at a Korean restaurant with authentic Korean food. I could not believe how much food they had for us – one of every Korean dish—from mackerel to a special fried eggplant. I will never forget how great the apples were for dessert. Now I know why they are famous for apples in Daegu.
The Disability Rights Network sponsored the first ever disability speaking event in Changwon. I was so honored to be the first presenter. Mary spoke about digital accessibility and the Disability Equality Index. It was wonderful to meet leaders of the disability movement who will create change along the path to independence.
The highlight of the day occurred at the end of my presentation. I told them the story of Justin Dart and his chant of “Lead On!”
I will never forget when I heard them loudly say “Lead On.” They now know Justin’s words and I know they will Lead On.