The 21st National Assembly has one extra, unofficial member.
It’s ‘number zero’ Joy, the guide dog of Korea’s first ever female visually impaired politician Kim Yea-ji.
The way Kim participates in lawmaking is different from her colleagues.
She reads documents transcribed into braille, but faces obstacles as the braille reader can’t display certain graphs and pictures.
And when bills are voted on, other lawmakers use a touchscreen, but Kim uses the old system, pushing a button under the desk, which means sometimes her vote is delayed or not counted at all.

“The history of lawmakers with disabilities isn’t long. While I’m in politics, I’ll try to ensure future visually impaired lawmakers can exercise the same rights. I hope there will be more of them so the rights and interests of people with disabilities increase.”

After a car accident, Democratic Party lawmaker Choi Hye-young suffered from spinal paralysis, putting her in a wheelchair.
Though she tries to make the voices of the disabled reach everyone in parliament, the steep ramps make it hard for her to move around the building.
She says the National Assembly must go beyond “barrier-free” and implement universal design to create a place accessible for all.

“We need to share the notion that ‘barrier-free’ is not just a kind gesture but an obligation. Parliament must be easily accessible not only for the disabled but to all people regardless of age and condition.”

To make that happen, the 21st National Assembly is making changes.

“We are providing a system that turns text into speech for the visually impaired. And since August there are sign language translations of press briefings.”

However, legislators with disabilities say a lack of awareness is hindering inclusive policies.
They say the wall can be broken with communication which then changes into understanding.

“It seems building a ‘barrier-free society’ will require not only more active involvement by policymakers but also the cooperation of all stakeholders the government, the private sector and our communities at large.
Choi Jeong-yoon, Arirang News.”

Reporter : jychoi@arirang.com

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