Published Date: Jan 2024


South Korea has come a long way in becoming more accessible for people who use wheelchairs. With the 1988 Seoul Olympics serving as a turning point, the country has implemented various policies and infrastructure changes to promote inclusion and independent living for people with disabilities. This article explores South Korea's progress on wheelchair accessibility over the past few decades and where further improvements can still be made.

Historical Context

South Korea did not have strong disability rights or accessibility laws until the late 1980s. Disability was largely seen as a source of shame and many public places lacked ramps, elevators, or other accessibility features. This started to change with South Korea hosting the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul. The government invested heavily in making the city more navigable for international visitors, including those using mobility aids. New regulations required public transit stations, government buildings, and other key locations to install wheelchair ramps, automatic doors, and other basic access points. While far from perfect, this marked an important milestone that set the stage for expanded accessibility in subsequent years.

Public Transportation Accessibility

One of the major success stories has been improving wheelchair access on South Korea's extensive public transportation network. All subway and train stations built after 1988 are required to be fully accessible with amenities like elevators between platforms and street levels. Older stations have gradually been retrofitted as well. Buses also now have wheelchair lifts or ramps to allow independent boarding. Transit apps also include accessibility information to help plan trips. While a few older stations still pose challenges, overall South Korea's subway and rail systems are among the most accessible in Asia for wheelchair users.

Accessibility in Other Public Spaces

Beyond transportation, South Korea has also made gains in wheelchair access for other public areas over the past 30+ years. All new government buildings, schools, hospitals, theaters, sport stadiums, and shopping malls must comply with accessibility standards. Ramps, automatic doors, accessible bathrooms, and other features are usually well-incorporated into design and construction. Older existing structures have also been retrofitted as budgets allow. Enforcement of accessibility laws has improved overall compliance across the country. While not perfect, South Korea's cities generally rank among the most navigable in Asia for people who use wheelchairs.

Accessibility in Daily Life

Wheelchair access has also expanded in South Korea to support independent daily living. Curb cuts at street corners allow freedom of movement around neighborhoods and accessibility features in homes and apartments enable independent living. Accessible taxis and rideshare services have grown, aided by regulations and incentives. Accessible hotels are also widely available in major tourist destinations. Interpretive signs and maps in Braille are present in many public areas to aid navigation as well. Applications providing real-time transit and accessibility information help wheelchair users better plan trips and get around independently.

Room for Improvement

While South Korea has made tremendous progress, full accessibility and inclusion are still works in progress. Older built environments and historical districts often lack features. Sidewalk conditions remain inconsistent. Attitudinal barriers also still exist regarding disability and independent living. Enforcement of accessibility laws could be strengthened. Access to assistive technologies and rehabilitation services outside major cities are limited. Busy urban areas can lack sufficient rest areas. Understanding of invisible disabilities also lags. Continued government support, grassroots advocacy, and social awareness efforts will help South Korea achieve even greater accessibility and inclusion going forward.


Through concerted policy efforts since the 1988 Olympics, South Korea has transformed from a country with little wheelchair access to one with a highly accessible transportation network and many other accommodating public spaces and services. While improvements are still needed, South Korea stands out as one of Asia's leaders in promoting inclusive design and independent living for people with mobility disabilities. With ongoing advances incorporating universal design principles into infrastructure, technology, and social attitudes, South Korea is establishing itself as one of the most accessible countries for wheelchair users around the world.