It is ironic that in a week that has seen the unveiling of world-class restroom and care facilities for those with disabilities at Suvarnabhumi airport, the capital's subway transit system has unleashed a storm of protest by deciding to switch off its down escalators during off-peak hours, a move that will hit expectant mothers, the disabled, the arthritic and the elderly hard. The irony, of course, is that while the airport's facilities were so primitive they were branded as hostile to the disabled when the terminal opened in 2006, the MRT subway system has always been cited as a shining example of how to get things right and adopted as a model by campaigners worldwide because of its easy access, legible signs and audio messages.
This is in stark contrast to the cramped conditions of the BTS skytrain which has only five stations served by token lifts, most usually inoperative, and provides a service that can challenge the young and fit, let alone the handicapped. The big problem used to be a reluctance by employers to recruit those with disabilities. Now that this is being overcome, the task of physically getting to the workplace has become paramount. The pothole-strewn pavements, partially blocked by vendors and obstructed by motorcyclists taking a short cut, already pose major hazards, as do high kerbs, the clutter of low wires and unyielding traffic.
If Bangkok governor-elect Sukhumbhand Paribatra carries out his campaign pledge, at least 100 specially adapted meter taxis for the disabled will become available in the city within a year, but that is nowhere near enough.There is talk of modifying buses and making easy access for the disabled a condition for future purchases. The State Railway has so far adapted 10 trains. All baby steps, admittedly, but they are welcome ones and keep the momentum going.
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