PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (AP) — South Korea began showing off its new snow sports mecca at the opening of the Special Olympics on Tuesday.
Pyeongchang, the once-sleepy hamlet in the mountains east of the capital, will also host the 2018 Winter Olympics.
But the arrival of 3,000 intellectually disabled athletes from around the world also has spotlighted South Korea's long-criticized treatment of the disabled, who for decades were kept out of the mainstream.
About 5 percent, or 2.5 million, of South Korea's 50 million people are either physically or intellectually disabled. Among them, about 7 percent are intellectually disabled, according to government statistics.
South Korea classifies the physically and intellectually disabled on a scale of one to six based on the severity of their disability. The government says the system guarantees fairness in determining what support each disabled person should receive.
Critics, however, call it a human rights violation, arguing the classification grades bodies "like meat" and stigmatizes the disabled in a society that already disdains them. They also say the six-step breakdown of disability is ineffective in meeting the diverse individual needs of the disabled.
"The classification determines your social status in South Korea if you are disabled," said Jeong Jong-hwa, a professor of welfare studies at Seoul's Samyook University.
South Korea's bid to host the Special Olympics was launched after former lawmaker Na Kyung-won — herself the mother of a child with Down Syndrome — attended the Special Olympics in Idaho in 2009.