April, here in Korea, is a month dedicated
to many things… ranging from Spring flowers to commemorating pro-democracy movements.
April is also a month devoted to promoting positive employment outcomes for people with
disabilities by encouraging everyone to recognize the value and talent they bring to the workplace.
Tonight, our Lee Ji-won sheds light on the disability employment scene here in this country…
Because at work, it’s what people CAN do that matters… “What comes to mind when you think of April?
Cherry blossoms, spring, Arbor Day? There’s a lot happening during this month of revival,
when flowers bloom,… but, in Korea, April is also dedicated to helping people with disabilities
find work.” This is a cafe in southern Seoul, where all
its staff members are busy working. The difference is all of them have intellectual
disabilities. “My responsibilities are to clean the hose
and make coffee and other drinks.” “I want to work as an education assistant…
but it’s hard to get a job so that’s a little sad.” The cafe is one of the few establishments
to employ workers with disabilities, let alone offer them stable, yearlong contracts.
The employees at this cafe are lucky enough to have both, but that’s not the case for
the majority of their peers. In order to improve the employment situation
for people with disabilities, the Korean government enacted a law on employment promotion and
vocational rehabilitation for disabled persons in 1990.
This law compels public institutions and other state organizations to ensure that at least
3-percent of their staff is made up of people with disabilities… and for private firms,
at least 2-point-7-percent. There are currently about 2-point-5 million
people with disabilities in Korea, or about 5-percent of the total population.
But the labor force participation rate of people with disabilities stands at only 37-percent,
which is significantly lower than that of the able-bodied population.
Moreover, the unemployment rate among people with disabilities stands at 6-point-6 percent,
which is almost double the national rate. “The first problem is the misperception that
people with disabilities would simply be grateful for a chance to work, even if compensation
is the minimum wage.” One counseling center that deals with employment
problems for people with disabilities receives an average of three to four calls or visits
a day. “Most of the people that call us are people
who got fired for no special reason. Generally they are the first ones to get fired when
the economy is not in good shape.” To tackle this situation, many developed countries
established social enterprises from the 1970s. In the U.K., for instance, there are currently
about 68-thousand such enterprises that account for more than 5-percent of the country’s GDP. “Other countries get financial support from
their governments to establish social enterprises and employ people with disabilities. Korea
has also started on these policies, but they still need to be developed further.” Ridrik is one of Korea’s social enterprises
that hires people with severe disabilities. And in order to improve the working conditions
for its staff, the firm also provides various therapies, education and activities that help
relieve stress and enjoy the work. “I have been working in this firm for 5 years.
I would like to stay here for as long as possible… because it’s fun to work together with other
people” “The firm is established to support employment
of people with severe disabilities. And since the firm creates profit,… it can be sustained
on its own. And this is beneficial for both the government and society in general because
this type of enterprise not only fulfills social responsibilities, but also contributes
to the economy.” Kim added that he believes social enterprises
can grow to become a significant solution in creating quality jobs for people with disabilities,
and for that reason, they should be expanded in number. “For more quality jobs to be offered to people
with disabilities, experts say developments in government policies and most importantly
changes in people’s perception on disabilities are needed.
Lee Ji-won, Arirang News.”