Think of the Father Ray Foundation and you may be reminded of the articles that regularly appear in the local media. Stories of happy children enjoying a birthday party, young adults with disabilities winning medals at sporting events or the blind children celebrating Teacher’s Day.
But there is a project at the Father Ray Foundation that, while many do not know about it, has changed not just the lives of many living with a disability, it has also changed Thai society.
The Redemptorist Foundation for People with Disabilities, or RF as it is known, was founded in 2000 with the aim of promoting the abilities of people with disabilities and fighting for equal rights, no matter the ability of the person.
Remember a few years back when the Supreme Court announced that every Skytrain station in Bangkok must have an elevator installed? It was the RF who took the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration to court. It was the students from the vocational school here in Pattaya who traveled up to the offices of BMA in the capital, and climbed out of their wheelchairs and dragged themselves up the steps to protest, all in view of the national and international media. And it was the RF who pressured the BMA to treat all its passengers as equals.
The law states that every company employing 100 staff must employ at least one person with a disability, or pay a fine. It was the staff at RF who, together with leaders of disability organisations in Bangkok, pressured the government to bring this into law.
The Job Placement Agency for People with Disabilities not only finds employment for students graduating from the vocational school, it will help anyone who is disabled and needs to find work.
The RF invited well known companies to rent space to open call centers and employ people with disabilities. So the next time you call Powerbuy, AIS Telecommunications or AXA Life Insurance, the person who answers it will most probably be sitting in a wheelchair here in Pattaya.
When Powerbuy opened a branch in Pattaya Klang it also opened a repair shop, and all the workers are living with a disability.
RF also set up a nationwide call center to offer advice to people with disabilities. Call 1479, Monday to Friday, 8am-8pm, and someone with a disability will be able to offer help, no matter how near or how far away.
The number 1479 comes from the amount of kilometers twenty five students from the vocational school wheeled themselves in 2011 from Pattaya to Bangkok and then up to Nong Khai all to raise awareness of the abilities of people with disabilities.
Almost every week there are seminars and conferences taking place here in Pattaya, all organised by RF, and which are advising, supporting and empowering people with disabilities. They come to attend from all over Thailand, from the far north to the deep south.
The RF also hosts visitors from neighbouring ASEAN countries, who arrive to gain new knowledge, taking that knowledge back home to Myanmar, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia and changing the lives of people in those countries.
RF has also fought for access on public transport. Today, and every day, there are trains with carriages adapted for people with a disability leaving Bangkok for the north east, the north and the south of the country, thanks to the pressure of the people working at RF.
Most piers along the Chao Praya River, and also on the canals of Bangkok now have easy access for people with disabilities; guess who put pressure on the powers that be in the capital?
For more than a decade the RF has been asking for a bridge to be built over Sukhumvit Road here in Pattaya. A bridge that will have an elevator on both sides, with easy access for people with disabilities. Representatives from successive local and national governments have visited the site and promised the bridge will be built, all in front of the national media.
In September RF received a message that all plans to construct a bridge across Sukhumvit Road with access for people with disabilities have been cancelled; it will not be built now or in the future.
It is doubtful the RF will just accept this decision and keep quiet. Watch this space.