A photo showing seemingly healthy Thais stuffing themselves into an MRT station elevator — which are prioritized for commuters with disabilities — while a man in a wheelchair is forced to wait has gone viral, prompting an online discussion about the state of disability rights in the kingdom.
That there is a scarcity of compassion for Thais with disabilities isn’t exactly news, but having photographic evidence of just how bad it is is pretty depressing.
In the photo, which was posted to Facebook yesterday, a man in a wheelchair can be seen sitting outside the busy elevator at the MRT Tao Poon station that is seemingly stuffed full of able-bodied citizens who could just as easily have used the escalator or stairs instead.
“Please don’t do this. The Tao Poon MRT station has escalators going up and down…. I’m not going to say no one should be allowed to use the elevators, but I think they should be reserved for special cases only like for seniors or for those with ailments that cannot walk properly,” Facebook user Wan Tulyada wrote online. She said the man had to wheel to the back of the line to queue for the elevator.
“At the very least, citizens should let people who actually need the elevator have priority,” she added.
The photo sparked a huge amount of outrage and negative comments from the Thainet.
“For those who think Thailand is developed, just take a look,” user Piyapong Taongern commented this afternoon.
“This happens in every station. The physically handicapped must wait for those handicapped in the heart to leave first,” Somchai Puanunchai also commented today.
And it’s not just the handicapped. Today, user Kotchanan Nutbanterng posted a photo of a heavily pregnant woman standing in a crowded BTS train, with nobody apparently willing to give up their seat for her.
Over the past decade, numerous stories about activists confronting others for their mistreatment of the disabled have emerged. But while Thailand’s Constitution contains anti-discrimination provisions for disabled persons — such as the 2007 Persons with Disabilities’ Quality of Life Promotion Act and the 2008 Persons with Disabilities Education Act — these policies are rarely acted upon on a day-to-day basis.
Back in 2011, Saowalak Thongkuay, Regional Development Officer of Disabled People’s International Asia-Pacific Region, pointed to both a lack of implementation from authorities and an awareness gap among citizens.
“There are no measurements and support systems to ensure that persons with disabilities are able to really access these services,” she said at the time.
It’s sobering to realize how little things have changed in the intervening eight years.
According to a 2012 survey by the National Statistical Office, the most recent available figures, Thailand has about 1.4 million people with disabilities, or 2.17 percent of the population.
In the words of that one incisive commentator, the number of Thais “handicapped in the heart” might far exceed that statistic.
Editor: This story has been updated to clarify that the man in the wheelchair was seen queueing for the elevator prior to the photo being taken.