Monday, April 20, 2009

Korea tries to assist more disabled people toward job training

From Korea Times:

When 31-year-old Kim Myeong-seob went almost totally blind three years ago, he was a graduate student with plans to study abroad. Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) took away his visibility and his dreams -- for a while.

He tried to get a job at one of the nation's largest companies, with a major in chemistry, but was rejected because they wanted a person who had "at least some visibility.'' Devastated, Kim was introduced to the Korea Employment Promotion Agency for the Disabled at Ilsan Vocational Competency Development Center last September.

There, he learned how to use screen reader systems for the visually disabled and is now learning how to use software needed in offices. He hopes to get a job this year since he now can draw up documents, print them, read them and do some accounting.
"It's not all that easy, but I feel like learning something and working,'' he said. About 210 people like Kim go to the center, north of Seoul, to learn technical and other social skills to work not only among themselves but also with non-disabled people.

"We receive requests from companies looking for the disabled. They give us conditions and qualifications and we teach the students exactly what they're looking for ㅡ it's a tailor-made curriculum,'' Kim Jong-sang, the center head, said.

Twenty year-old Kim Chang-myeong, who is mentally challenged, was busy assembling nuts and bolts used in thermo element manufacturing last Thursday. He
kept repeating the assembly and disassembly process.

"I like it, it's fun,'' he said. Kim, who began his training in early April, said he would like to get a factory job, but isn't quite sure where or how.

"We'll see,'' he smiled. Director Kim said the youngsters there take the training -- two and a half hours of work at a time, with a 10 minute break and lunch.

"This brought good responses from companies,'' he said.

What worries him these days is the economic downturn.

The Lee Myung-bak administration declared that the country's most urgent need is employment.

He once said, "Anyone capable of working should work. The disabled are no exception.''

However, their employment rate here is quite small. By law, public firms are required to have a 3 percent disabled workforce, but recent Ministry of Labor research shows government agencies are the most reluctant to follow the guideline.

The Presidential office marked 1.75 percent, while the National Police Agency, the Board of Audit and Inspection and the Foreign Affairs Ministry marked 1.66 percent, 1.79 percent and 0.65 percent, respectively. Big firms such as Samsung and LG paid 8.6 billion won and 2.2 billion won in 2007 for failing to meet the quota.

Government agencies are exempt from fines, it said. Some disabled people having been holding protests in front of the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Family Affairs building ahead of April 20, the Disabled Persons Day.

They urged the government to support them with facilities and goods and more hiring of the disabled.

"The administration has encouraged public companies to buy products from 'social enterprises' where disabled people work. However, since it's not an obligation, many are reluctant to honor the guideline,'' a protester said.