Sunday, February 26, 2012

Korea, Employment, And People With Disabilities

One of my on-line friends', David Light, lives in Seoul, the capital of South Korea. He teaches English to Kindergartners who are neurologically and physically typical.

What happens to Korean children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD's) when they become adults?

"Why did the study find so many kids in "mainstream" classrooms, not receiving special support? One explanation may be the Korean school system. Children go to school six days a week, 12 hours a day. They don’t have much recess time, have fewer transitions between classes, and spend more time on rote learning."
That's a good educational model, but how would it help people with Asperger's in the school system learn how to generalize this information that typical people do instinctively? 
 I have a great long-term memory (most of the time). I can memorize facts, mathematical formulas, and other types of information.
"Roy Richard Grinker, a cultural anthropologist at George Washington University who worked on the study, said his own child with autism would probably function very well in such a system."
David told me that he imagined that I would do better if I was growing up in Korea because the social norms (rules) were clearly stated. I imagine the educational system in Korea would have been of great assistance. I saw a video of (from Children Around the World) of typical Korean elementary school students. The great news is that Korea uses universal design to teach students academic skills - visual and kinesthetic (hands on). In one example, students were learning to purchase food and count money with toy food and "play money." This a an excellent example of the principles of universal design - teaching to a wide variety of learning styles.
For people with Asperger's, the skills goes beyond purchasing food and counting money (the simple part). They need to be taught to greet cashiers. If they're working as a cashier, they need to be taught to greet customers.  If they're purchasing food and have questions, they need to be taught how to approach an employee or manager appropriately. They need to be taught to make eye-contact with the cashier or customer. Typical people consider lack of eye-contact as a sign of rudeness. The neuro-typical Korean children know this instinctively, but children with AS do not.

What happens after people with Asperger's (the ones who can and choose to go) finish college or university? Korean government handouts? 
Korea has a lot of people in bureaucratic  positions. These people are employed in government and positions of power. The skills required to work in these positions go beyond technical capability. Communication skills, interpersonal skills, integrity, excellent problem-solving skills (for both people and things) and the ability to empathize with citizens are also extremely important. I don't know anyone with an Asperger's diagnosis who can do all of these things. Even this highly talented and successful adult with AS that I know has difficulty relating to typical people.

However, I heard that people with disabilities are not given a chance to work in Korea. If people with invisible disabilities, such as Asperger's, are not permitted to work in Korea, what will they do all day? It's WASTED TALENT (any geographic location) to deny adults with AS the opportunity to work and contribute to their community. People with AS thrive on structure and stability, and employment provides that (except if your employer rarely shows up). If someone with Asperger's is denied that structure, stability, and opportunity - anxiety and panic erupts (think: emotional problems and reactions). If someone with Asperger's gets bored, like Gary McKinnon, that person can get get illegally creative. It's good for business to hire adults with Asperger's. It hurts society (any location) when you don't allow them to work.

Why do Korean businesses not allow people with physical disabilities the right to work?

In Korea, businesses don't want to hire people with physical disabilities because a wheelchair makes someone "look bad." The reason is that Korean people are obsessed with "beauty," so a wheelchair is an "interference." From the logical standpoint, this is baseless discrimination. 

Productivity isn't measured by your ability to walk, and many people who can walk have higher absenteeism and perform below the company's standards.

Unfortunately, because the business perspective doesn't exist in Korean culture, people in wheelchairs are not allowed to be employed. They receive government handouts, so they can live below the poverty line. The business perspective employs people based on qualifications - including technical, communication and interpersonal skills, work ethic, personal characteristics, and first impression. Companies that practice the business model do NOT discriminate based on personal equipment such as a wheelchair.

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