Forum – March 11, 2016

Symone M. Gosby

Ever heard of the Korean Disability Rights Movement? Not many have. Yet, since the 1980s the movement has made a significant impact on the way people with disabilities (PWD) are treated and viewed within the Korean society. The movement has resulted in laws such as the Welfare of Persons with Disabilities act (1989), Disability Employment Promotion and Vocational Rehabilitation act (1999), Anti-Discrimination act (2007), and more.

Before the 1980s, PWD were invisible members of society and the topic of disabilities was considered taboo. Although over the decades the situation of PWD has improved and disabilities has become more openly talked about and studied subject, PWD continue to be a marginalized group in Korean society. This is in part due to the negative attitudes and misconceptions held by people without disabilities. In a society where education and economic contribution is a measurement of one’s social participation PWD are wrongly seen as pitiful beings were unable to fully contribute to society. This idea needs to be changed. Corrected misconceptions are key for further social inclusion.

Symone’s research focuses on self-determination as a method to social integration. This method allows PWD to be at the forefront of correcting societal misconceptions. Research has shown that PWD equipped with the skill of self-determination challenge the perceptions of others who view them as incapable of making decisions about their own lives and also have a better quality of life. Although educators understand the importance of teaching self-determination, the Korean educational system leaves little room for actual implementation. Although western scholars say self-determination should be taught as early as preschool, this is not completely possible for Korea. This does not mean students with disabilities (SWD) are void of such skill, however.

Through 1-on-1 interviews with SWD from multiple universities in Seoul, Symone investigates what factors have influenced them to exercise self-determination and how this skill has affected their lives.

Symone Gosby, a recent graduate of smith College, is a 2015-2016 Fulbright Research grant recipient in South Korea. As an East Asian studies major student with disabilities yourself, Symone is interested in the transformation of disabilities within Korean society. Upon completion of her research grant, Symone plans to continue her education by studying Human Rights and Humanitarian Policy.