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Corporate power matters

May 12,2017
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Ji-min, 12, is paralyzed in the lower half of her body and uses a wheelchair. She used to need her mother or a helper to attend school. The ramp at the crossing had been too steep for her to handle on her own. But Ji-min has been able to commute alone since November, thanks to Todo Drive. Todo Works, a company with 12 employees, developed a device that allows manual wheelchairs to move like electric ones. A motor makes the wheels turn, and the user can control the direction with a joystick. It is not only far more affordable than electric wheelchairs but also easy to control and move.

As Ji-min can travel independently, her world is expanding. She is exploring her neighborhood and has even taken a bus alone. At school, she gets to the cafeteria line and orders what she wants. “This product has changed Ji-min’s life more than any other help we received as we raised her. We are very grateful to the company that developed the product,” her mother Hong Yun-hee said.

Technological innovation that drastically changes life is mostly led by companies. The rights of people with disabilities, which the government is supposed to be responsible for, often improve thanks to industrial technologies. Earth science professor Lee Sang-muk of Seoul National University, who was paralyzed in a car accident, said information technology saved him. He moves his computer with his breath and controls the wheelchair with his chin and cheeks to do research and teach his students. Lee says, “Development of information technology will reduce the gap between the people with disabilities and those without.”

The story, coming after President Moon Jae-in’s first day in office, raises public concerns. Some considered his campaign promises antibusiness. He advocates for the concentrated reform of the four major conglomerates, raising the corporate tax that was lowered during the Lee Myung-bak administration, government leading the creation of jobs and spearheading the fourth industrial revolution.

“Government does its job, and companies do their jobs,” said Todo Works CEO Shim Jae-sin, who is developing wheelchairs suitable for bumpy Korean streets. When I asked whether it is more important for the government to remove the bumps rather than developing wheelchairs, he said that companies are best at creating jobs and technology innovation, and the government needs to provide environments for businesses to work. President Moon wishes to become a president for all citizens, and thinks he will be able to fix these problems. We hope he will recognize the role of businesses and empower them more.

JoongAng Ilbo, May 11, Page 35

*The author is an industrial news reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo.

IM MI-JIN