In 2015, Korea University was ranked among the highest in the government evaluation of educational welfare for disabled students. Among 368 universities across the nation, only 22 universities qualified for the highest. In fact, in 2015, KU had the largest number of disabled students among the top 22 schools, with nearly 150 disabled students enrolled in KU as of 2017. Among the numerous groups who made efforts to reach this milestone, the students’ shine the brightest. In KU, Korea University Disabled Association (KUDA) has been vocal in calling for upholding the rights of the disabled.
▲ The experience booth by KUDA in 2015. PROVIDED BY KUDA.
KUDA is a student club that defends the rights of the disabled and partakes in various activities for that purpose. For example, the expansion of barrier-free zones within the campus or during the festivals is one of their main accomplishments. Most of the members are deeply interested in the rights of the disabled and yearn to protect those rights. All students, regardless of their age or physical condition, are welcome to be a part of KUDA.
Since KUDA fights for human rights, the group takes activism very seriously, even to a point where its members go on demonstrations. Such a belligerent image belies KUDA’s true intentions, however; above all else, KUDA has been constantly aiming to establish a society where the disabled and the non-disabled can peacefully coexist. Several ways through which KUDA has been realizing this goal are by actively designing social campaigns and installing an experience booth on campus where students can step into the shoes of the disabled and become more aware of their rights. “For example, we installed a teddy bear sitting in a wheelchair saying, ’I also want to take classes on the second floor’,” explained Lee Hyeon Seung (’16, Korean History), the Vice-chairman of KUDA. While KUDA has made tangible differences such as installing elevators, it avoids resorting to aggression to get its voice heard.
▲ KUDA’s mascot.
The club seminar is one of KUDA’s main activities. Active members should participate in at least three seminars each semester. While the Academic Bureau organizes the seminar, those who volunteer to present during the seminar decide its topic and format, which encourages members to freely discuss issues they are interested in. Generally, the first seminar of the semester discusses the types of disabilities that the new recruits need to learn about. Starting in 2017, KUDA is uploading articles regarding the issues dealt with in the seminar on the website called Prime Times. Since valuable discussions within the club are open to the public, those who are interested in the rights of the disabled can have the opportunity to learn more about the issue.
KUDA’s history goes hand in hand with the improvement in the rights of disabled students in KU. It dates back to 1998 when five students banded together and established a gathering for disabled
students. Then in 2000, KUDA became a special agency under the Korea University Student Association (KUSA). Nowadays, 14 members comprise the club, with nondisabled students forming the majority.
As much as KUDA experienced radical changes in its form and size, the rights of the disabled underwent similar improvements, especially in terms of awareness. Demanding the construction
of facilities that tend to the needs of students with mobility impairments and the establishment of barrier-free zones across KU’s Seoul Campus are the main accomplishments KUDA has achieved
thus far. It plans to further target these areas in coming years. The establishment of an elevator in the Liberal Arts Building and a gentle slope in the West Gate for wheelchairs are some significant changes that KU owes to KUDA. In 2017, barrierfree zones went through great improvements compared to the past, allowing many disabled students to enjoy orientations and festivals along with other students without safety concerns.
KUDA is not a volunteer or a service club that simply offers help to others. In fact, the initial goal of the founders was not to contribute to society or to join the pantheon of great service clubs. The core mission of KUDA is to understand. “KUDA’s biggest appeal is that members can talk a lot. During training, orientations, and seminars, the members have heart-to-heart discussions on perceptions toward and experiences concerning the disabled in our daily lives. In this process, I learned so much and realized that I had been locking myself in misconceptions against the disabled,” said Lee. He admitted that he once had a distorted perception of the disabled that was shattered when he met people with disabilities who communicated so well with others and lived independently. “When I realized that disabilities are nothing to be ashamed of, I could finally accept myself too. KUDA is synonymous with healing for me,” said Lee.
As with other human rights clubs, KUDA has a long way to go until they reach their goal. Still,
many disabled students suffer from patronizing and condescending gazes from society and a lack of welfare policies that complicate their daily lives. Many able-bodied students are still oblivious to barrier-free zones, some of which until recently were filled with personal belongings. Nevertheless, KUDA members know that their efforts are not meaningless. “When I was depressed because nothing seemed to change despite the efforts, a member of the audience at one of the seminars cried during my presentation on disabilities. Then I realized that I could affect at least one person and change the way she looks at disabilities,” said Lee. KUDA has definitely left its mark on KU, and seeks to add much more.
▲ KUDA’s presentation during the Social Science Forum in 2016.