Disabled Accessibility - Transport
Access to subways and buses in most areas of Korea for the disabled, elderly, strollers, young children, etc. is somewhat limited. Up until the late 1990's early 2000's one rarely saw a differently abled person in public. Physical perfection was and remains important in Korean society. However, attitudes, expectations and accessibility are changing.
Seoul Metropolitan Government has inititated a number of projects to improve transportation accessibility for the disabled. As of 2013, though, there is still some way to go.
Wheelchair/Stroller Access: More than half of Seoul's buses are wheelchair (and stroller) accessible. Many of the more accessible buses are assigned to routes that are frequently used by the elderly and the differently abled, including welfare facilities and hospitals. (The remaining buses still have the extremely high step that makes it especially difficult for many riders to get on or off.) Wheelchair access if from the back/middle door of the bus. There are 2 chair locks at seats that can be lifted.
Note: One of the reasons why the older style buses are so difficult for many people to get on/off is that drivers generally stop some distance from the curb. This practice has continued with the low step buses but they are easier for elderly, handicapped and short-legged people to access. Still a problem for strollers if the driver does not release the wheelchair ramp (see the image above). Also, there is limited space on even the new buses for wheelchairs or open strollers. The one space is easy to get into but the second is behind a post so maneouvering can be tricky.
Access for the Blind: Bus and subway information in Braille is available in an increasing number of subway stations in Seoul to improve accessibility to bus stations for the blind. All stations have Braille tiles to help visually impaired passengers navigate their way around the platform area and to the subway cars (vertical lines means go ahead while circles mean stop/proceed with caution) . Traffic lights with voice guidance are increasingly being installed around the city. Voice and electronic text services giving bus arrival times are available - text/voice in Korean only at the moment. In some subway stations, voice guide units that guide the blind to the platform have been installed - in Korean only at this time.
Note: These new services naturally target local residents and so are not yet available for tourists and foreign visitors who do not speak/understand Korean. The tiles are often quite large (according to a representatiave of an association of the blind, they are larger than the blind require) and are often an impediment to the elderly, to women wearing heels and others.
Rough Rides: Bus rides can be pretty rough at times with drivers seeminly oblivious to the fact that they are not in a car and that there are a number of people standing, trying to keep(v their balance behind them as they speed up to make the light and stop suddenly as they get through the intersection. Moreover, drivers have to deal with the difficulties of Seoul traffic, which can also result in frequent quick stops, etc. Making bus rides smoother (and safer) for the elderly, disabled and people carrying children remains a challenge for the city.
Note: Passengers are generally quick to offer their seats to older riders and sometimes to foreign nationals, pregnant women or passenger with young children.
Wheelchair/Stroller Access: Elevators have been installed at almost all subway stations in Seoul from street to ticket level, and from ticket level to platforms. This are intended for the use of people in wheelchairs, those with strollers as well as the disabled and elderly. The non-visibly disabled must use the stairs, of which there are many or the escalators, if they are running in stations where they are available. (Escalators are frequently turned off, ostensibly to save energy). Some stations still have wheelchair lifts but these are used less and less thanks to the installation of elevators and to the risks involved in using them (injuries and even death). Moreover, wheelchair passengers have to wait until a staff person sees them and is available to come operate the lift stair wheelchair lift.
Note: The challenge is finding the elevators. Look for a small sign with wheelchairs and arrows pointing up and arrows pointing down. That's where the elevator can be found. They are sometimes at the extreme ends of the platform, but not always. The elevator doors cannot be closed by passengers; they are on timers that are extended when someone enters or exists.
Getting Through the Turnstiles: At one end of each turnstile are wheelchair/stroller acessible gates. Generally this can be opened with the press of a button; some just have to be pushed. However, at some stations, those gates are locked and one has to attract the attention of transit staff to have the gate opened.
Note: It's generally pretty easy to get through the gate and while there is a scanner nearby, the gate is also helpful for people who are going the wrong way or whose smart card is not working or who have lost their subway ticket.
Dedicated Subway Cars: At each end of subway cars are seats reserved for the elderly, the disabled and pregnant. Some cars also have one side at one end of the car cleared for strollers, bikes and/or wheelchairs. There is a large wheelchair on the platform to identify where the door to that area/car will stop.
Note: The space allocated is limited and allows for a maximum of 2 strollers or wheelchairs. Should it already be occupied when you get on the train, it's very difficult (short of impossible and potentially dangerious) to get to another car in a wheelchair or pushing a stroller.
Obstacle-free Zones: Attempts have been made to transform areas where the elderly and the disabled frequent into obstacle-free zones.
Taxis: Currently there about 400 vans/taxis designated for disabled passengers. However, there is still a long wait for service while foreign nationals have reported not getting repeat service. Taxis will take passengers from Seoul to satellite cities but will not pick up in those locations. Call number: 1588-4388 (operators may be uninlingual Korean).
Shuttle or Special Disabled Transport can be ordered, but the caveat is that they may or may not come at the time requested or at all even. They cannot be relied on as regular, or even irregular, transportation for the disbled. They are, however, equipped with electronic ramps and, in some cases, tie-down straps.
Note: This service is free of charge. Some drivers and operators see it as reserved for local residents.
Train Travel: The Mugunghwa trains are equipped with wheelchair ramps in some cars, which also have a wheelchair acessible toilet. The newer train stations also have elevators (best to check with KoreaRail to confirm the accessibility of the station where you will be getting on/off).
Note: While some statiaons have elevators or are on the ground floor (more or less) there are sometimes stairs to get into/out of the station.
For more information, contact the Seoul Global Center at (82-2)1688-0120 or the Dasan helpline at 120 or email the city at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Last Updated on 2013-11-19
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