In Thailand, work on creating an enabling environment for persons with disabilities started well before 2015 and the establishment of the 60+ Plus Bakery and Café by Yamazaki. In fact, it began in earnest decades ago in 1954, when the Foundation for the Welfare of the Disabled was established under the royal patronage of HRH the Princess Mother (HRH Princess Somdet Phra Srinakarindra Boromarajajonani). This was soon followed in 1961 by the establishment of a service center dedicated for children and a school for disabled people, “Sri Sangwan School”.
Over the following decades, an expanding network of foundations and organizations with missions to support people with disabilities were either set up or came under royal patronage in Thailand. The Foundation for the Blind and the Foundation for the Deaf in Thailand came under the royal patronage of the HM Queen Sirikit in 1959 and 1964 respectively, the Christian Foundation for the Blind received patronage by HM King Bhumibol in 1978, and the Thailand-Caulfield Foundation for the Blind (TCFB) came under the patronage of HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn in 1980.
The royal patronage behind these foundations gave these organizations much-needed publicity and support, improving access to critical funding and collaboration with other agencies. This, in turn improved ‘access’ for people with disabilities to public infrastructure and social services. It was the spark that ignited the engine behind a robust machinery that moved vital work forward in this area
Many foundations providing support to the disabled population in Thailand, even extended outreach to other countries, especially developing countries in Africa and the South Pacific – adding positive momentum to Thailand’s development cooperation. Deserving particular mention is the Prostheses Foundation of HRH the Princess Mother. Set up officially in 1992, it initially worked with the Princess Mother’s Medical Volunteers (PMMV), whose mobile units of doctors and nurses have been in operation since 1969 to reach out to the sick and disabled in remote areas. From the outset, the Foundation focused on using locally-sourced materials for the production of prosthetic legs to reduce costs, based on the principle of self-sufficiency. With the royal patronage, the Foundation was able to collaborate widely with academia and the private sector in the comprehensive production, design, distribution and practical application of these artificial devices.
Efforts to improve the welfare of people with disabilities require constant attention and commitment.
Late King Bhumibol the Great, remarked at the Foundation for the Welfare of the Disabled under the Royal Patronage of HRH the Princess Mother on 22 March 1984: “Helping people with disabilities is a very important task…because they did not wish to be disabled, but would rather be able to help themselves… So, it is our task, our responsibility to ensure our policies enable them to help themselves, so that they can contribute to society”
( Piroon Laismit is Executive Director of the Asia-Pacific Centre on Disability (APCD) and has wide experience on the empowerment of persons with disabilities. )