Protest at Social Development Ministry voice concerns about disability rights

A protest took place in front of the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security (MSDHS) on Thursday (10 December), which addressed issues of the rights of people with disabilities, including the right to receive state welfare.

Banpot Chaiyala

Banpot Chaiyala, a disability rights activist and leader of the protest, said that the rally was to demand rights for people with disability, including the right to be employed, which are still neglected by the state.

The Association of the Physically Handicapped of Thailand previously demanded that the government hire 8000 people with disability in accordance with the employment quota for the private and public sectors. However, the government has yet to comply.

Banpot said that he has already informed the police of the protest as required by law, and that the protest should conclude by 20.00.

Earlier in the morning, Banpot went to Thammasat University to pay respect to the statue of Pridi Banomyong, before walking to the MSDHS. On the way, he met several people with disability working as vendors on the street who do not have the government-issued disability card, which allows access to state welfare. He also found that much of the footpath, such as near Sanam Luang, did not have enough space for people to travel, and was left in disrepair at many points, which poses problems for people with disability who have to travel around Bangkok.

At the MSDHS, where at 16.00 the protest began, microphones and speakers were set up on the steps of the Ministry for performances and speeches.

Namphu

Namphu, one of the speakers, who uses a wheelchair, said that he would like to call for amendments to the articles relating to people with disability in the Constitution, and for human dignity to be enshrined in the Constitution, and that he would like to see people with disability receiving rights and a society without structural inequality.

He said that the rally shows that people with disability do not have to wait for the state to help them, but can demand their rights, and that they do not need charity because everything they are demanding is what they should get. He said that he has to work hard to support himself, because the 800 baht per month disability benefit is not enough, but he said he doesn’t know how he will be able to support himself when he is old.

Namphu also said that, while there are laws which state that people with disability must be able to get an education and must be able to be find work, but it is not possible for them to go to school or work without support. He said that many people with disability are unable to get employment as stated in the Empowerment of Persons With Disabilities Act, and that many face inequality and exploitation, which is the reason why structural reform is needed.

“I would like the Ministry (MSDHS) to open their minds and accept the truth about the disability benefit, employment, and the unequal structure. If we accept this, then we have a way out. Lastly, I would like the Constitution to be amended. While the 1997 and 2007 Constitutions talk about human dignity, but the latest Constitution does not mention this at all, and it’s time we talk about state welfare,” Namphu said.

Aom, another speaker, also said that the 800-baht disability benefit is not enough and that the benefit should match the poverty line, because people with disability have more expenses than abled people. He said that he once applied to study at a university, but the university rejected his application because they don’t have the facilities. He also said that people with disability face many issues when traveling, as they are not able to access cheaper forms of transportation, and that he wanted to call for equality in daily life.

Earn

Earn, the next speaker, said that she is speaking as the sister of a person with disability. Earn’s sibling needs expensive medical procedures, but while there is the disability benefit, they need to wait for months. She said that she would like society to recognize the worth of people with disability, and that they don’t need charity but they do need to be cared for. She said that she has previously been attacked on social media, but she insisted that young people, women, and people with disability should be able to have a better life.

The next speaker, Ploy, said that her mother was disabled after a stroke, so she has seen how difficult it is to live with disability. She said that medical equipment and other equipment to support people with disability are expensive, and the situation is made worse in comparison to the disability benefit from the government.

Chuveath Dethdittharak

Chuveath Dethdittharak from We Fair, a civil society network campaigning for state welfare, was the last speaker. He said that disability is a result of physical limitations, legal limitations, limited access to information, and issues of bias, which are the reasons people with disability are not able to have the rights they deserve. He gave the example of sign language interpreters during television broadcasts, who are shown in a small square in a corner of the screen, while in other countries, it is required that half of the screen be dedicated to the interpreter for the broadcast of important information, which shows how Thailand views people with disability. He also said that these obstacles are the reason few people with disability are able to speak for their rights.

He noted that the 2007 Constitution states that people with disability must be able to access facilities, which led to the 2007 Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities Act, but this right is not mentioned in the 2017 Constitution, as well as the right to receive an education. These things happened despite having members of parliament who are people with disability.

He said that the rights of people with disability have not received attention, despite having representatives in parliament, such as Viriya Namsiripongpan and Monthian Buntan. These representatives also face obstacles, such as being prevented from speaking or being told that the session has run out of time. He said that people do not see the capabilities of people with disability, and that legislation on disability rights that came out recently does not actually work. He also said that it is impossible to fight for democracy without addressing the issue of quality of life and state welfare, and called on leaders of the disability rights movement to stand with the people, not those in power.

The protest ended at around 20.30. Protesters then went to the Chamai Maruchet Bridge to show their support to a group of around 40 community members from the Chana district in Songkhla, who had gathered there to protest the Chana industrial zone project.

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