Koreans Use 1988 Olympic Park to Get Their Daily Dose of Exercise - But Where are the People with Disabilities?
|James H. Rimmer, Ph.D., Director|
Seven days a week, thousands of Seoul?s local inhabitants converge on this oasis of green space to exercise and to escape the confines of their tight-quartered apartments. Each day during my stay, Koreans, young and old, were obtaining their daily dose of physical activity as they socialized with friends and neighbors. Many were walking, others jogging, and several more were cycling or rollerblading. Tucked inside the Olympic Village were still more exercisers; people doing Yoga and relaxation classes to the sound of music led by a fitness enthusiast; scores of people entering and exiting the Olympic swimming pool complex for their morning swim or aqua aerobics class; and many seniors were performing martial arts that involved slow movements requiring good concentration and balance. It was fun to be in an atmosphere where so many people were committed to the value of movement and good health.
The only disappointing feature of these beautiful surroundings was the absence of people with disabilities. In the four days that I spent in Olympic Park obtaining my daily dose of physical activity, I did not come across one person who used a wheelchair or had any visible signs of a disability. It surprised me because the park seemed so accessible. There were curb cuts and open entranceways, and the paths inside the park were large and well paved. One reason for this absence may be that getting from home to the park may require more time and energy. Thus, people who live on the outskirts of the park and have no transportation are not close enough to take advantage of its luscious beauty.
Wouldn't it be great if there were a few accessible vans that swept through the city a few days a week during the early morning hours, perhaps from 7 to 9 a.m., picking up anyone within a radius of a few miles that would like to use the park for their daily exercise routine? How much more would it cost the city of Seoul ? or any city for that matter ? to add a few vans with retired part-time bus drivers who are looking for a few hours of work and would be a great asset to contributing to the health of people with disabilities while making their own lives somewhat more meaningful? Or better yet, how about providing people with lower-extremity disabilities with battery-operated scooters that they can use to get to the park and, once there, transfer to manual wheelchairs (these can be easily donated by private foundations, agencies, or personal caregivers who no longer need them) or hand cycles (parks should have these available for people with disabilities although this is probably too ambitious during tight economic times) to perform their exercise routines?
The Olympic Park is much too beautiful to be left to a few thousand "able-bodied" people. If we are going to be successful at encouraging people with disabilities to become more physically active, we must use our creative instincts and a limited amount of resources to reach this vastly underserved population. Who knows what a few hours a week of exercise would do to improve the lives of people with disabilities? Providing them with the opportunity to exercise outdoors may have a profound effect on reducing loneliness and social isolation, and may indirectly reduce the massive health care costs associated with depression and inactivity.