Webinar Overview: ‘The Rights and Equality of Dis/abled People in Thailand’
On 26 May 2021, the Faculty of International Studies, Prince of Songkla University, Phuket Campus and the Center for Conflict Studies and Cultural Diversity (CSCD) at the Institute for Peace Studies, Prince of Songkla University, Pattani Campus, in collaboration with Minority Rights Group International, organised an online webinar, entitled ‘The Rights and Equality of Dis/abled People in Thailand’ that aimed to raise awareness of the importance of the rights and equality of marginalised and minority groups, including disabled people, deaf people and sign language users. Interest in the topic was reflected in the fact that the event page was visited 5,400 times before during and after the event, whilst the event itself was attended by 50 people via Zoom link and viewed over 600 times via social media Livestream. The webinar was held in Thai with Thai sign language interpretation, provided by Ratchasuda College, Mahidol University.
During the three-hour online event, speakers and participants discussed the real-world problems regarding disability rights in three locations: Bangkok, Thailand’s deep south and the United Kingdom. The webinar proposed that the rights and equality of disabled people can succeed only when actions of individuals emerged as a collective response to equality that sees dis/ability as an inevitable, intersecting and natural part of the human condition, and therefore must be viewed as an issue ‘for all’. This philosophy guided the choice of discussants and organisers to use the term ‘dis/abled’ in the event title, to emphasis the impermanence of ‘able-bodiedness’ and to counter the negative and pitying stereotypes associated with the word ‘disability’, which are still prominent in society.
Khun Manit Inpim “Saba” presents a photo of himself with two Japanese disability rights activists. The caption above the photograph reads ‘Everybody has the right to happiness, no matter how much their body might change.’ (translation from Thai).
The discussants included prominent Thai disability rights activists, Mr. Manit Intharapim (Accessibility Is Freedom, Bangkok) and Ms. Senah Deesa-eh (The Association of Disabled People in Southern Thailand); as well as academics, Fareeda Panjor (Institute for Peace Studies, Prince of Songkla University) and Dr. Nattaporn Sittipat (Faculty of International Studies, Prince of Songkla University); and Lauren Avery (Minority/Disability project officer, Minority Rights Group International).
During the first session, Senah and Fareeda focused on providing recommendations and solutions to the issues facing disabled people in Thailand’s deep south. Low employment and education rates and accessibility are a few of the issues which have been neglected by the Thai government and exacerbated by the ongoing conflict. Particularly for disabled people with intersecting identities, such as women or ethnic and religious minorities, there are specific issues that are often overlooked. Fareeda outlined that a lack of accessible facilities at mosques and Islamic schools in the provinces of Narrathiwat, Pattani and Yala prevents Malay-Muslims with disabilities accessing their rights to religious education and taking part in religious community and ceremonies. For disabled women, sexual abuse is often hidden within communities and therefore is not recorded, monitored or addressed. Senah highlighted that lack of access to personal assistive devices and equipment, such as wheelchairs, nor any local service for maintenance and repair exacerbates the exclusion of disabled people from the workplace, for whom there are already few work opportunities.
Next, Manit illustrated how the life of disabled people would be if they had to depend on Bangkok’s public transportation system by using photographs to show the barriers that he and others face on a daily basis when moving through the city. Bridging the gap between people with and without dis/ability, he proposed necessary steps that Thailand needed to take to develop its public transportation to be accessible and convenient for all people.
Fareeda Panjor presents a slide showing a diagram illustrating how personal characteristics overlap and intersect including race, gender, disability, ethnicity, culture and language.
In the third session, Lauren described how, despite the significant progress made by the civil rights movements in the United Kingdom, disability issues were still very much present and threatened by austerity practices imposed by the current government which have led to the erosion of health and social services over the past decade. The result of such practices has fuelled the inequality faced by ethnic minorities and disabled people, which has then been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic; statistics reveal that a disproportionate number of those who died from Covid-19 during 2020 were disabled people and ethnic minorities, particularly from black and Asian backgrounds. Social movements have helped to challenge this disparity and achieve some progress, including a successful campaign for priority Covid-19 vaccine access for learning disabled people, but there is still a long way to go to achieve equality and dignity for all.
Since the success of this webinar, the faculty of International Studies, in collaboration with Accessibility Is Freedom and the Institute for Peace Studies, plan to organise a webinar series for the next academic year to promote the rights and equality of disabled people, particularly in Thailand’s deep south. Other work is ongoing between the Association of Disabled People in Southern Thailand, Minority Rights Group and Prince of Songkhla University to strengthen disability and minority rights in the region. This work includes promoting inclusion of marginalised groups in the peacebuilding process and campaigning for personal assistive device repair services and employment and training opportunities.
Many thanks to all who attended this webinar and special thanks to the organisers, speakers and sign-language interpreters.
Photo: Manit Inpim filming with BBC Thai in Bangkok, July 2019. Credit: Lauren Avery.