Being Disabled in Bangkok: A Conversation with Sawang Srisom (2.18)

2017-11-15T22:47:26+00:00

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No one is going to say that Bangkok is an easy city to navigate. Near-constant congestion, poorly paved sidewalks, non-existent pedestrian crossing areas… that’s just a start. Now imagine that from the point of view of someone who uses a wheelchair. Suddenly these difficulties seem like insurmountable obstacles.

The show starts with a recap of the new “blowing up on social media” scandal: It seems some mototaxi drivers are placing a surcharge on passengers with additional mass. But that’s not the injustice we’re talking about on this episode.

On today’s show we chat with Sawang Srisom, Secretary for Transportation for All (T4A), a grassroots organization that’s forcing Thailand’s bureaucracy to actually follow the law and make the city — specifically the BTS skytrain system — fully accessible to people with disabilities.

Laws aimed at supporting the rights of the disabled have only been on the books in Bangkok since 1991, and that one didn’t even address accessibility. That didn’t happen until 2005. Yes, you read that right: There were no laws governing accessibility requirements just over a decade ago. And since the BTS system construction started 10 years before that, enabling officials a convenient excuse for not including things like elevators in all but five of the 29 stations. Amazing.

To get action, T4A started filing lawsuits against the BMA (Bangkok Metropolitan Authority who oversee the BTS system) for failure to comply. The goal wasn’t financial compensation, but to force change. It went all the way to the Supreme Court, and it’s now been ruled that all stations must have lifts installed on both sides of the tracks.

If you’ve used the BTS and thought “but I see lifts and other accessibility additions. What’s the problem?” Listen to the show to find out how insane it is for wheelchair users like Sawang to try and use those accessibility additions you’ve seen. It often involves taking a taxi just to cross the street. Fair warning? It’s maddening to listen to.

The good news is that Thailand has the right policies on the books. The problem — and stop us if you’ve heard this one before — is getting bureaucrats to follow them. Good luck, Bangkok. You’ve got a lot of work ahead of you. But clearly it’s the right thing to do. Because accessibility is for everyone.

Love, Loathe, or Leave?

Not this week. Evo’s voice (as you noticed) is giving out. We’ll try again next week.

Want more?

Drop us a line over at  bangkokpodcast.com, or leave a review for us on iTunes or Google Play. Oh, and we have a Facebook page! You can even Tweet to the show @bangkokpodcast or us personally at @bkkgreg or @evoterra. We’ll see you next week on The Bangkok Podcast!

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