In the past all Korean masseuses were blind, here’s why

Becoming a masseuse in South Korea used to have one very unexpected condition.

In 1913, there was a legal requirement set in motion that only allowed the visually impaired people of Korea to seek out employment as masseuses. The goal of the government was to ensure that all disabled people could seek out employment.

In the past, state-funded schools had additional choices for technical training such as Piano Tuners, however; these professions were also open to sighted individuals. This resulted in heavy competition with sighted workers having a clear advantage over the visually impaired. Therefore, training programs were focused only on massage therapy.

In 2008, there were only 7,100 blind people working in about 1,000 massage parlors who were legally registered masseurs in South Korea. However, this failed to stop other people looking for employment as masseuses. It was estimated that between 150,000 and 700,000 masseuses were working illegally in South Korea. This seemed to be a common issue between legal, visually impaired masseuses and illegal, sighted masseuses.

Many fully-sighted people fought for the right to become legal masseuses.

There was a legal debate in the South Korean Constitutional Court where sighted masseuses requested options to become legally licensed. Parks Association represented 120,000 unlicensed masseurs in their quest to work legally. The basis of this argument is that denying sighted masseurs the right of job choice violates their employment rights.

The fear was that these illegal masseuses could face up to 3 years in prison if convicted of violating this requirement despite the fact that the South Korean Constitution guarantees freedom of employment choice to its citizens. This caused protests from both sides in this ongoing debate.

In 2006 the courts decided for the sighted masseurs and granted the right to work for both the sighted and the blind. This was followed by protests on both sides of the argument. The sighted masseuses argued that if it allowed the blind to continue as masseuses, it could result in stagnating the progression of blind people seeking out other forms of employment.