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Opening up Buddhist Temples to the disabled

by Emi Hailey Hayakawa, BTN, May 7, 2015

Seoul, South Korea -- The 1700 years old Buddhist temples follow the traditional architecture and characteristics of Korean Buddhist Art. Various stone works often complement temple compounds, such as stone stupas and steep stone stairs, which take the visitor up into the inspiring world of the Buddhas in the Main Hall.

Unfortunately, it is these steep stone stairs and various other obstacles that keep visitors with disabilities away from the Buddhist temples.

Kyung-nam Lee is physically disabled but stated that he feels the most comfortable at Buddhist temples as he wants to be close to the Buddha dharma. He has been attending the Buddhist temples for more than 20years despite the various obstacles that make it difficult for him to access the facilities. He mentioned so far that he is always extra cautious at the steep stairs.

Lee states, “I feel the most anxious at the foot of the stairs. The temple stairs are steeper than stairs in the modern buildings, so I rely a lot on the handrails, but sometimes at various other temples, there are no handrails either. When I don’t feel strong enough, I usually do three half-prostrations at the foot of the stairs because I don’t have the energy to climb up the steep stairs that lead to the dharma hall.”

Although there had been recent upgrades to a few temples across Korea with disability access facilities upgrades, such as handrails for stairs, since most Korean Buddhist temples fall under the premise of the Cultural Contents Protection Acts, they are not required by law to have disability access facilities within the temple grounds.

On the other hand, the temple administration office staff has agreed that there is no separate considerations for the physically disabled buddhists at the temples regarding building regulations, and it is very difficult from our side to make all of our facilities disability friendly for the minority.

However, the physically disabled argue that with the additional disability access facilities on temple grounds will also be beneficial for the non-physically disabled, such as elderlies and pregnant women.

Buddhist Temples are open for all sentient beings but the non-physically disabled are unable to realize the difficulties of the physically disabled that want to come to the temples for their own spiritual development.

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