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Standing Commissioner Choi Kyong-Suk: "Committed to eliminating discrimination barriers for those who are challenged"
Date : 2007.10.29 00:00:00 Hits : 2389
Choi Kyong-Suk began a 3-year term as a Standing Commissioner of the National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK) on September 21, 2007. Choi’s position in the Commission is especially meaningful, as she is the first female Standing Commissioner with a disability
With a level III physical disability, Choi served as co-representative of the ubiquitous Korean Differently Abled Women United organization before coming to the Commission. As the ‘Anti-Discrimination against and Remedies for Persons with Disabilities Act’ will take effect in Korea this April 2008, Choi’s appointment is particularly fitting, and will allow the Commission to better represent persons with disabilities.
The following is a translation of an interview with Standing Commissioner Choi, conducted to learn Choi’s feelings about her appointment and her visions for her time with the Commission:
Q: To start with, congratulations on your appointment as Standing Commissioner of the NHRCK. A range of groups for persons with disabilities actively recommended you for this position. Is there something you would like to say to them?
A: During the journey to arrive where I am now, many people including activists for persons with disabilities and activists for women’s rights have worked hard to provide much support and encouragement. I would like to take this opportunity to say thank you to all of them. This appointment is a testament of all the hard efforts of the differently abled, and a motivation for the movement to proceed steadfastly. So while I have been receiving many kind words and congratulations, I feel a heavy responsibility. For the next three years, I will endeavor to fulfill my role with dignity and humility, and employ my authority for the betterment of society.
Q: I heard that you have been tremendously active in many groups for persons with disabilities. Please tell us briefly about your past activities.
A: Back in 1988, I was a founding member of the Busan Differently Abled Women United and the Korean Differently Abled Women United. I have participated mainly in planning and executing a variety of projects to facilitate social participation for challenged women and to help enhance their capabilities. I also ran counseling centers and shelters for victims of sexual violence. Naturally I was able to learn a lot about and accumulate valuable experience through advocacy for women and persons with disabilities.
Q: You yourself are challenged. Could you tell us how the disability came about and about the social discrimination you have experienced as a person with a disability?
A: As a three-year old, I contracted polio. So one of my legs is not fully functional and I am categorized as having a level III physical disability. In 1989, I graduated from the architectural engineering department of Cheongju University in Chungbuk. As soon as I graduated, I became painfully aware of the stark social barrier that many persons with disabilities face. I submitted applications to many construction companies, but none would hire me. Even my college professors did not ask me about my career plans. It was as though they were certain I could not get a job. That was the first time I came up against the enormous barrier of discrimination against the challenged in our society.
Q: Groups for persons with disabilities strongly believe that the Disability Discrimination Act, which will come into effect next year, is inadequate. What do you think about this?
A: As a result of a drawn out struggle, the ‘Anti-Discrimination against and Remedies for Persons with Disabilities Act’ with many shortcomings has been enacted. Despite the act’s shortcomings, it is time to concentrate on how the law can be enforced in a manner that makes the best of it. I think the Commission will be able to reflect a variety of ideas and values through active communication within and beyond the organization.
Q: Finally, do you have any comments you would like to make to the NHRCK?
A: One area in need of improvement for the Commission, in my opinion, is public exposure and awareness. It seems that a large portion of the public believes that the Commission is only welcoming to socially vulnerable groups, including persons with disabilities and migrant workers. I believe that it is critical to raise awareness about the Commission’s existence and service for all Koreans and residents in Korea, and also assert ourselves as an indispensable organization in Korean society. I hope that I will be able to assist in the promotion of a more accurate public perception of the Commission through education, public relations and other initiatives.
 

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