Blind World Magazine

South Korea.
Blind massage therapists fight for their right to work.

The Korea Herald, South Korea.
Monday, June 05, 2006.

The visually impaired have been fighting a desperate battle to retain their exclusive right to the massage profession since the Constitutional Court ruled last month that only granting massage licenses to the blind is unconstitutional.

The visually impaired and their advocacy organizations have staged demonstrations across the country calling for the withdrawal of the judgment, which they regard as threatening their livelihood.

"We, with support from the 50 million Korean people, are indignant over the Constitutional Court's decision that has frustrated the living of the visually impaired," the Korea Massager Association said yesterday during a press conference at the National Assembly.

Rep. Jang Hyang-sook of the ruling Uri Party, who is also the president of the Korea Sports Association for the Disabled, and Rep. Jung Hwa-won of the main opposition Grand National Party offered their support.

"We're planning to submit a revised medical bill that would include the exclusive right to the massage profession for the visually impaired and their family," Jung said.

Advocacy organizations nationwide are also planning to stage a massive rally in Seoul on Wednesday, where hundreds of thousands of the visually impaired are expected to show up.

On Sunday, a visually handicapped man was found dead after jumping from his Seoul apartment in an apparent suicide. The 42-year-old man worked as a massage therapist and was reportedly deeply upset by the ruling.

"One visually impaired gentleman left us after he was angered by the court's decision," the association said. "How could other people's freedom of choosing jobs be more important than a blind's right to live?"

GNP spokesman Lee Ke-jin also said the government should hurry to come up with measures to prevent a repeat of the unfortunate incident.

To help the disabled, the government had originally granted massage licenses only to the visually impaired.

There are some 6,500 of them working in more than 1,000 legal massage parlors across the country, according to the Ministry of Health and Welfare.

On May 25, the Constitutional Court ruled that the decades-old regulation unconstitutionally infringes on the freedom of other citizens to choose jobs.

"Although it is legislatively justified to protect people with visual problems and their living, it blocks other people from getting certain employment, which is unreasonable and inappropriate," the court ruled.

The ruling triggered a wave of protests from the blind massage therapists and sympathetic citizens.

Last week, hundreds staged street protests, and some occupied a bridge across the Han River in Seoul, jumping into the water in suicide attempts. All were immediately rescued by police at the scene.

Several dozen blind people also jumped on to a subway track at a station in Seoul, blocking train operations for about an hour, demanding the government ensured their job security.

Hundreds of citizens have posted appeals on the court's website, demanding the judges' reconsideration of their ruling and urging the government to come up with alternative measures to protect their livelihood.

"If you, judge, were visually impaired, you wouldn't make this decision. Please reconsider this," a person wrote on the board of the website.

Some say the ruling would only create more immoral establishments across the country, and that it was an "irresponsible" court decision.

"There should have been a countermeasure before abolishing a law that affects the nation this much. This is very irresponsible behavior," one wrote on the court's website.


End of article.

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