Sunday, November 29, 2009

Disabled man in Korea honored as public servant

From JoongAng Daily:

Park Jin-yeong (pictured), a disabled worker at the Yongin District Tax Office in Gyeonggi, received an award in this year’s public servant contest hosted by the Ministry of Public Administration and Security. He was recognized for obtaining nine local and international qualification certificates in taxation and finance despite his physical disability.

Over 1,500 public service workers entered the contest. Park was the only disabled worker among 94 winners.

It’s been a long and hard road for the 38-year-old.

Park’s life turned upside down when a broken neck from a swimming pool accident 19 years ago left him a quadriplegic. At first, Park couldn’t shake the feeling that he had been dealt a bum hand. Though his mother dutifully massaged his legs, there was to be no miracle. He is confined to a wheelchair and can only use his little finger on his left hand and forefinger on his right hand.

“I wanted to kill myself, but I couldn’t even do that because I couldn’t move,” Park said. When college admission season approached, Park looked for a college where he could maneuver his wheelchair. He chose the National Tax College. Fresh out of college Park became a tax worker at a northern Incheon tax office in 1993. But Korea was not ready to accept disabled staff, Park recalled.

The only place where he could freely move his wheelchair was the first floor of the office. Because of that, he was assigned to work at an ombudsman desk.

“I didn’t even have the chance to take on larger tasks because my co-workers and my boss avoided giving me work since I was disabled,” Park said. “When I complained about the unfair treatment, they gave me two reasons. One, I lacked experience, and two, I didn’t have certificates related to taxation and finance.”

Even if the accident limited him physically, Park kept reminding himself that he would not take a backseat to anyone. After work, Park hit the books until late night and his supportive wife, Lee Yeong-ah, 40, stayed awake to help him get into bed.

Lee also helps Park dress.

“The only thing that was hard to bear was that I couldn’t watch TV because I didn’t want to interrupt my husband’s study,” Lee said.

Park’s efforts bore fruit in 2005 when he successfully obtained a certificate as a computer audit specialist.

“If you don’t have the will to handle matters, no one will to turn to you for help,” Park said.

“I kept telling myself, ‘I want to do this and I can do this.’ That actually empowered me to have the power to seize good opportunities and meet good people. My studies will last forever and improve my family’s happiness."