WHAT IS Yonsei University like for you? How difficult is it, traversing across campus from the front gate to Daewoo Hall? Now imagine how much more difficult it must be for students with disabilities who must overcome hardships able-bodied students consider to be effortless. Going to the bathroom, getting to class, finding a place to eat are all challenges these students face. Thus, to facilitate these students, Yonsei’s Human Rights Center has established a scholarship program to recruit student volunteers willing to help students with disabilities. These student helpers make Yonsei University a welcoming and accessible place for students with handicaps, helping them with their daily activities. Let’s take a glance at the lives of these hidden heroes through an interview with Shin Ha-en (Jr., Dept. of English Language & Lit.), conducted by the The Yonsei Annals.
Annals: Can you briefly explain what you do?
Park: What student helpers do vary according to the disabled students’ handicaps. Usually the work is divided into three parts: dictation, mobility assistance, and activity assistance. In the case of a blind student, since they cannot see the screen or what the professor writes on the board, they need to hear the dictation for written material in class. On the other hand, deaf students need helpers to transcribe the lecture as they cannot hear what the professor is saying. Mobility assistants help blind or wheelchair-bound students navigate between classes. Walking a step ahead of them, helpers of blind students let the blind students hold their arms, giving warnings ahead of time when there are stairs or obstacles in the way. Activity assistants have the job of aiding disabled students with in-school activities, which often just means helping the students eat their meals.
Annals: Could you tell us about your daily routine?
Park: I work as a helper for blind students twice a week. Because the blind student that I am in charge of lives in Yonsei International Campus (YIC), he has to come to the Sinchon Campus by shuttle bus. Therefore, picking him up from the shuttle stop is how I start my helper activities. When the disabled student arrives, we eat lunch together before going to his classes. While listening to the lecture, I dictate to the student whatever is written on the board or shown on the screen. After the lectures finish, we eat dinner together, and finally go to the bus station to ride the bus back to YIC. When the shuttle bus arrives, I help him find his seat. Finally, when I get home, I organize the lecture content and send it to the student through e-mail. That’s the gist of my helper duties.
Annals: Why did you apply to be a student helper for disabled students?
Park: During my freshman year, I was taking a major course in YIC when I saw a blind student sitting at the front of the classroom. She was accompanied with another student dictating to her and helping her move around. At the time, I didn’t know about this student helper program, so I wondered how I could help blind students. I had high hopes to help them but doubted I could actually be of any assistance. Then, when I became a sophomore and moved to Sinchon, I saw an announcement in my major chat room asking if any student was willing to dictate for a blind student in a class that I was taking. As soon as I saw the message, I contacted the person who sent the message, and that’s when I learned about the student helper program for disabled students. Since then, for the past three semesters, I have been working in the program.
Annals: Were there any difficulties during the activity?
Park: A concern that used to worry me was. “What if I unconsciously say or do something that makes the disabled student uncomfortable?” I thought that in order for the disabled student to be comfortable receiving help from me, it would be good for me to talk and get to know the student first. However, at the same time, I became more considerate of my words, making sure I didn’t say anything wrong or unkind. I also became very sensitive towards the disabled student’s expressions and responses, which made me feel self-conscious sometimes. But over time, I naturally became closer to the student, and through various conversations was able to understand the student better. Since I was always cautious about what I said, I never hurt any of the disabled students’ feelings. In that sense, I think that quality is something other helpers need to be aware of, and is one of the foremost traits a student helper should possess.
Annals: When were the times you felt the most pride and/or satisfaction with what you are doing?
Park: During my three semesters of working as a student helper for disabled students, there are two incidents I am most proud of. The first incident was when my disabled student told me I was one of the best student helpers he had met so far. As I was sometimes hesitant to help disabled students, believing myself to be incompetent, hearing such high praise from him made me really happy. The second incident was not a specific moment, but rather was the whole process of improving my assistance. When I first started working as a helper, there were so many things I did not know about and at times I felt like I wasn’t fulfilling my tasks properly. For example, when I was walking along the road with my student, I forgot to warn him about an obstacle, because avoiding it for me was intuitive. Because I didn’t warn him, the student was very surprised when he bumped into it. However, now I don’t forget to warn the students even while I’m in the middle of a conversation, and have learned paths that are more comfortable for disabled students to take. When I know what the disabled students need and how to make them comfortable without them telling me, I feel most proud of myself.
Annals: As a student helper for disabled students, do you have anything to say to the readers of the Annals?
Park: I believe disabled students should not be impaired by their handicaps when choosing which classes to take. If you hold the same belief and take a class with a disabled student, you should apply to be a student helper. Also, I believe diligence and a sense of responsibility are essential qualities of student helpers. Student helpers should keep in mind that they can fulfill their duties well only when they are attentive and take the extra step to get to know the disabled students. Lastly, please have good manners and be considerate toward students with disabilities. While working as a student helper, there were plenty of times I felt students were disrespectful and even outright rude toward disabled students. Please avoid staring at them and pushing them when passing by. Especially for blind students, being pushed can easily lead to them getting hurt. Besides the things I’ve mentioned, there is so much more that I’ve learned while being a student helper for disabled students. I hope many students are interested in volunteering as well, help disabled students, and have a rewarding, discrimination-free experience at Yonsei University.
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Student helpers for disabled students are recruited every semester. For more information, contact Yonsei’s Human Rights Center (02-2123-3633~4, firstname.lastname@example.org). Be the next hero for the disabled students of Yonsei.