Technology offers freedom of mobility

For an able-bodied person, it takes less than 10 minutes to transfer from line No. 2 to line No. 6 at Sindang Station, one of the biggest transit points in Seoul.

For a person in a wheelchair, it takes up to 40 minutes.

The corridor at Sindang Station is long. It contains a lot of stairs and not enough ramps or elevators to help those using a wheelchair move on their own. During rush hour, the commute is a nightmare.

“Most subway stations in Korea were designed without mobility disabled people in the picture,” said Hong Yun-hui, founder and head of Muui, a nonprofit that provides transit information for people with physical impairments.

To point out one problem, “because Seoul’s subways are operated by more than two organisations, the signs are inconsistently placed,” she said.

“There are even blind spots in stations where there are no signs at all. It is impossible for people with an impairment to even bother to use the subway relying on these signs.”

“People with impairments are generally not financially affluent,” said Shim Jae-shin of Todo Works. “It is critical to develop something that can be used right away, which is what we are doing.”

Last year, Muui released a service that gives passengers the easiest transfer routes in select subway stations. The app can tell users which subway car is closest to the elevator and which corridors have more ramps. The nonprofit started with 14 stations and expanded the service to 33 this year. Volunteers collect the information by actually wandering the stations in wheelchairs.

“We have to consider everything from the perspective of those who move around in wheelchairs,” Hong said. “Even if there’s a sign, it is not useful for the mobility disabled because they cannot see them.”

Hong started Muui because of her daughter, who is unable to walk due to neuroblastoma. She believes people with disabilities should venture out and raise awareness of their experiences, but the infrastructure and technology in Korea is far from sufficient.

According to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, one out of four people in South Korea face difficulties getting around on their own. Ten per cent of that population has limited mobility because of conditions inherited at birth or wrought by a tragic accident. That adds up to about 1.2 million people in a country of 50 million.

Volunteers from Muui explore the Seoul subway in wheelchairs to collect information on accessibility. Source: Muui

Perceptions of people with disabilities cannot change overnight, but technology and services can.

“With the help of electronic wheelchairs and computer-assistive equipment, I was able to study and participate in society again,” Kim Jong-bae, an associate professor of occupational therapy at Yonsei University, told the Korea JoongAng Daily.

An accident in graduate school paralysed Kim from the neck down, but he was later able to study rehabilitation engineering in the United States with the aid of diverse technology and equipment.

“I severely felt the importance of rehabilitation engineering and how it is vital for disabled people to live independent lives,” he said.


Hong Yun-hui believes in the positive effect of technology for people with physical impairments, but she also says it does not have to be expensive or sophisticated.

“Very, very small changes can entirely change how disabled people move around outside,” she said.

Todo Works is a Korean start-up that provides kits to turn manual wheelchairs into electric ones.

“I witnessed my daughter’s friend struggling with a foldable wheelchair, so I made a motor in about six months that let her more easily move around,” said Shim Jae-shin, founder and CEO of Todo Works. “I received more than 200 calls from parents of mobility disabled children to make the same motor for them after this one-time product.”

The motor weighs about 4.5 kilograms and coupled with a foldable wheelchair – which can weigh anywhere from 15 to 20 kilograms – the contraption is lighter than an electric wheelchair, which can easily exceed 100 kilograms.

Shim said the kit, called Todo Drive, represents a “midway technology” that resolves an immediate inconvenience until a more complete solution is developed. The motor can drive a wheelchair about 10 kilometres on one charge.

“It is a rather simple task for the manufacturer to make these kinds of products,” Shim said. “But for disabled people, these simple products change their entire lives. The most frequent feedback I hear from parents is that the personality of their disabled children has changed to become brighter and more positive.”

Todo Drive sells for 1.76 million won (US$1475.89), while similar imported products go for over 5 million won (US$4192.88) on average.

Conglomerates have also started initiatives to help people with limited mobility. Hyundai Motor Group, the nation’s largest automaker, set up a social enterprise called Easy Move in 2010 to develop products catered toward that population.

The company remodelled its Carnival van and Ray box car with a ramp in the trunk so that wheelchair-bound people can easily get in and out of the car. The modified cars and other products posted 2 billion won in sales in 2011 and went up to 7.7 billion won last year.

Easy Move also designed a wheelchair for children that resembles a baby stroller. “Most of the wheelchairs sold in Korea are made for adults,” an official from Easy Move said. “But children who are unable to walk also need to use wheelchairs instead of just settling for a baby carriage because that option is not safe” since they were not designed for children with disabilities.

Like Todo Drive, the domestically developed and manufactured Easy Move products are less expensive than comparable imports.


Hyundai Motor has given its researchers opportunities to come up with novel ideas that help the disabled population.

Last year, it held an R&D festival where a team called Sympony took first prize for creating a system that turns sound into visible colors in a car’s front window to help the hard of hearing easily identify police or ambulance sirens.

A researcher from Sympony, a team of in-house researchers at Hyundai Motor, demonstrates a system that visualizes sound. Source: Hyundai Motor

The automaker’s research has even expanded to the realm of wearable robots. At last year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, it unveiled three types of wearable robots, also known as exoskeletons.

One of them, called H-MEX (Hyundai Medical Exoskeleton), allows people with lower spinal cord injuries to walk. Paraplegics can sit, stand and even walk up and down stairs by controlling the legs with a joystick.

The exoskeleton market is expected to exceed US$3.4 billion by 2024, according to Global Market Insights, and research on the technology is rising in South Korea. The number of patents related to exoskeletons filed in the Korea Intellectual Property Office hit a record high of 44 last year compared to just 11 in 2010. Hyundai Motor and Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering filed the most patents between 2007 and 2016.

Such futuristic technology, however, has a long way to go in practically helping people with physical impairments. “Most of the robotic equipment being developed today cannot be worn or taken off by disabled people on their own,” said Prof. Kim Jong-bae at Yonsei University.
“I wonder if they can be really called a practical invention for the disabled.”

Accessibility is also a problem. “People with impairments are generally not financially affluent,” said Shim Jae-shin of Todo Works. “It is critical to develop something that can be used right away, which is what we are doing.”

“We already experienced information gap problem when the internet and PCs first emerged,” Professor Kim said. “If technology of the so-called fourth industrial revolution doesn’t consider accessibility among the disabled population, it will end in a serious ‘technology gap.’”

This story by Jin Eun-Soo was originally published by Korea JoongAng Daily on March 12, 2018.

Published on March 12, 2018, business reporter Jin Eun-Soo’s story in JoongAng Daily drew attention to the plight of people with mobility impairments in South Korea and the technology that improved their lives. Listening to the difficulties of parents with disabled children in South Korea inspired her to shed light on the issue in a society so inattentive to their needs. She said: “It wasn’t an intentional violence, they say, but this ignorant attitude was what eventually lead to hostility and discrimination towards disabled people.” Her conversations with these parents revealed how small changes, such as information about which subway exit has ramps and an elevator, could help tremendously. The journalist then searched for people behind the products and services making these changes. They were eager to talk, because despite how useful their service was, nobody seemed to care. After running the story, Eun-Soo received many messages from people with disabilities and parents of disabled children thanking her for telling their stories to the world. She said: “They did not wish for immediate changes, but were thankful that the story could act as a pathway to elevating social awareness on disabled people and letting them know that small changes could really have big impacts on these disabled people.”

To politicians who only talk the talk of justice

Korean politics is one of taking sides. Let us not frame politics into simply ‘progressives and conservatives’.

We want a nation where adventurous students can grow along with model students.

Coding class is great but, instead of making it mandatory, students should be able to choose.

These days, it is widely said that people in their twenties are frustrated and angry about injustice. What do the youths think?

With the 100th anniversary of the Chosun Ilbo on March 5th 2020, six students in their twenties who participated in the Youth Future Expedition Team 100 – which sent one hundred students to countries around the world – sat down to discuss.

The Youth Future Expedition Team is now halfway through with 54 students having completed their journeys.

The six were: Hong Kyun Kim, 22, who experienced the young culture of American politics, Yoo Kyung Yang, 27, who met the Native Americans of Ecuador’s Amazon, Jung Ook Sung,27, who visited the unmanned autonomous ports in Rotterdam, Netherlands, Seung Joo Lee, 20, who explored Iceland where the government does not set minimum wage, Yoo Na Kim,21, who experienced the culture of respect towards the American soldiers, and lastlly Sun Kyo Ok, 23, who experienced Seattle’s computer education.


“In America, I met a student my age who was a member of the Democratic Party. But he had a best friend who was affiliated with the Republican Party. He says that they have become an inseparable pair since debating in middle school,” said Hong Kyun Kim.

When his group revealed their political preferences, they automatically got branded as a progressive or a conservative.

“Tactlessly bringing up a conversation about politics, you will either get an awkward silence or an angry divided crowd. As soon as those words come out of your mouth, they weave your entire life with your political ideology,” he said.

Yoo Na Kim supported this by saying, “Whether a progressive or a conservative, a person can have different opinions on different issues. I believe that it is incorrect to knock in a person’s identity by simply asking ‘Are you a Progressive?’ and automatically assuming, ‘Then you must be an activist’.”

Yoo Kyung Yang explained that she often felt that the older generation was trying to define them.

“Recently, I have come across many analysis on how people in their twenties are infuriated by the ‘unfair society’. Well… Will everything be solved as long as fairness is guaranteed?”

She continued by adding that she felt that the single word ‘fairness’ was being forced into a single frame.

“Sort of like ‘I’m following it so you should follow it too’ ? In reality, this is limiting. What kind of purpose would that serve? Politicians often speak of justice and fairness, while I want a society that guarantees diversity, creativity, and exploration,” she said.

“But since the politicians cannot ensure those values, it is like they are saying ‘let’s at least be fair’ and forcing our generation to follow that attitude.”

Seung Joo Lee agreed. She said that in today’s society, too many things are forced upon people.

She currently receives minimum wage in her part-time job. In Iceland, she added, the government does not set the minimum wage.

Instead, the companies and its workers freely and flexibly choose the wage amount.

On the other hand, the Korean government decides the minimum wage and even this becomes a political issue that creates a fissure in government between the assenting left and the dissenting right.

“And with these sort of automatic political definitions, it is difficult to have a proactive debate,” she said.


“We want the right of choice and diversity”

Sun Kyo Ok flew to Seattle, USA, to explore their coding education site first hand.

She was surprised by the amount of choice that the students there enjoyed.

“I was most envious of the fact that middle school students could choose classes that they wanted to take,” she said.

From classes on the Korean language, English, Math, Social Studies, Science, or even Music, all Korean students are required to take same classes.

Thus, when she wanted to learn coding, it was impossible.

“So, I thought… the American system that encourages each student’s passion was a big takeway. Our country has suddenly incorporated mandatory coding lessons as the importance of computers increased. I believe that giving students a choice by saying ‘you can learn coding’ versus obligating students by saying ‘you must learn coding’ is completely different.”

The youth also discussed how Korea seemed to be leading certain aspects as compared to their global counterparts. Source: Chosun Ilbo / Jongchan O

Jung Ook Sung supported her statement and said,“I think that Korea lacks diversity as much as it lacks choice. In Rotterdam, Netherlands, ports that I visited, Samsung SDS, Netherland ABN AMRO Bank, and the Rotterdam Port Administration were all working together to research a blockchain based trading platform.”

They told Ook Sung that in their country, it was commonplace to share and discuss ideas, regardless of religion, belief, race, or gender.

“I thought that our generation could differentiate ourselves from the older generation by creating a culture where we can hear out all the diverse opinions of individuals,” he said.

Whilst in a thank you letter writing campaign for American war veterans, Kim, who participated, was approached by an American student and a Chinese student who talked to her about the Korean War.

“I was surprised. It was like a Korean and a Japanese students going to the historic Seodaemun Prison (Japanese colonial authority ran this prison to jail Korean independence fighters) together. While it is important to look back and analyse the painful past, I hope my generation can get along with everyone for a brighter future,” she said.

Instead of hostility or anger, OK wanted to have more positivity and ambition.

“A peer whom I met in Seattle had a college loan and a monthly rent close to a hundred dollars. Nonetheless, he confidently said ‘I am on my way to my future and I will repay all my loans’. I envied his spirit. I dream of a day when youths can have more diverse paths,” said OK.

He hopes not only for a country made only by model students, but one that explorers can be recognised as well.


Those who have travelled abroad through participating in the Youth Future Expedition Team 100 project stated that there were certain aspects where Korea was more advanced than others.

Ms Yoo Kyung Yang who travelled to Ecuador said that “Korea seems to be ahead of the pack in terms of its dynamic driving speed to get things done”.

“This can be illustrated by the Starbucks chains in Korea. As soon as the disposable products became an issue, they quickly replaced the plastic cups and straws with more eco-friendly products. I could truly feel it amidst of the slow moving life of South America.

That there indeed are side effects to the ‘quickly, quickly’ culture in Korea, but we are very good at absorbing and applying new systems,” she said.

Mr Hong Kyun Kim who travelled to the US, stated that the young generation there envied Korea’s convenient voting system.

“If you want to vote in the US, not only is the registering process very complicated, but also the voting day is not a holiday. With this voting system in place, I felt that Korean young people should further actively voice opinions through voting.”

Mr Jung Ook Sung who travelled to the Netherlands said, “While collecting information on my exploration and getting to know the local people, I thought that with our young people’s digital abilities, they could prosper anywhere in the word.”

He continued by adding, “The Youth Future Expedition Team 100 has given me the courage to start a trading startup company with a few of my friends.”

This story by Kim Asa was originally published by The Chosun Ilboo on September 12, 2019


The Chosun-Ilbo initiated the ‘Youth Future Expedition Team 100’ project last March to provide young Korean people in their twenties with unlimited opportunities to explore all over the world while solving their curiosity and finding answers to our futures. The project aims to dispatch 100 young people, based on their proposals and plans, to all parts of the world where they believe the future is being shaped on an ongoing basis. The project is scheduled to be completed before March 2020, the Chosun-Ilbo’s 100th anniversary. The explorers will explore anywhere of 192 countries of six continents and meet whoever of 7.5 billion people on earth. The project will cover the entire world from the issue of the digital innovation led by Artificial Intelligence to African scientists studying the future of species, without limits on the regions and subjects. If you have further inquiries, please contact The website is Click here for more information: .