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Parliament considers allowing blind lawmaker-elect's guide dog into main chamber

All News 11:29 April 20, 2020

SEOUL, April 20 (Yonhap) -- The National Assembly is considering allowing the guide dog of a newly elected lawmaker with a visual disability to enter the main chamber as rival political parties have supported the move.

Kim Ye-ji of the minor opposition Future Korea Party won a proportional representation seat in last week's parliamentary elections. Her election has sparked a debate on whether her guide dog, called Joy, should be allowed to accompany her to the main chamber.

The National Assembly has customarily blocked guide dogs from entering the plenary chamber and meeting rooms of standing parliamentary committees, citing parliamentary law that bans people from bringing in "things that could be harmful or food."

Kim Ye-ji of the minor opposition Future Korea Party and her guide dog Joy pose for a photo on March 11, 2020 at a welcoming ceremony marking her recruitment for the April 15 parliamentary elections. She won a proportional representation seat in the general elections. (Yonhap)

In 2004, the first blind lawmaker, Jung Hwa-won of the then main opposition Grand National Party, attempted to enter the main chamber with his guide dog.

But the assembly was negative toward the idea, prompting Jung to receive assistance from his aides whenever he attended plenary sessions.

Lawmaker-elect Kim stressed that building a "barrier-free" environment is a duty.

"A guide dog is the eyes of a blind person and a partner, not a thing that poses harm or food," Kim wrote on her Facebook account Saturday.

"I cannot help taking issue with the situation that a guide dog has become the subject of debate," she said.

Rival political parties are in unison over calls for the National Assembly to permit Joy's entry.

"The secretariat of the National Assembly should fully support to make sure that a lawmaker with a visual disability can exercise the same right as legislators with no disabilities." The Justice Party said.

Lawmaker-elect Lee Su-jin of the ruling Democratic Party sided with Kim, saying that parliament should take the lead in creating a barrier-free environment.

The assembly is looking at cases in foreign countries and plans to further consult with Kim before the 21th National Assembly kicks off.

Three hundred newly elected lawmakers will begin their four-year term on May 30.

"We will further discuss the issue on Monday," said a secretariat official.


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