By Ariana Masae
“I don’t want to be hired out of pity or as a tax break. Hire us because of our brains, because of our skills,” said Banpot Chaiyala, one of the leading voices of Thailand’s protesters who have a disability.
Thailand’s protests have become a stage for people from all walks of life to share stories of injustice and inequality and, together, make changes.
At 46 years old, Banpot practices traditional Thai medicine as a profession. He was an orphan and had been homeless, but he wasn’t always a person with a disability.
In 1992, at 18 years of age, Banpot joined the democracy protests against military strongman General Suchinda Kaprayoon. During the crackdown in the event known as Black May, in front of Ratanakosin Hotel, near Thammasat University, he was shot in the spine.
Banpot refused surgery. Instead, he chose traditional Thai treatment. Two years later, he was able to walk again with the aid of a cane. Since then, he became involved in political activism for people with disabilities.
“I want to use my life lesson and help others,” Banpot said. “I want the lives of people with disabilities to be better, to have opportunities to work and earn a living.”
“Everyone should have basic human rights. It’s something the government should provide equally,” said Nalathaporn Krailerk, editor in chief of ThisAble.Me.
ThisAble.Me is a media platform that champions the rights of people with disabilities.
“Whether it’s Ratsadon, Free Youth, or Yellow Shirts, if there are issues about people with disabilities, then we are there,” she said.
Nalathaporn explained that stories of people with disabilities are not well presented in the mainstream media. They are not treated as equals by the media and are not given proper dignity.
“They are not a charity case in the news’s footnote. They don’t want pity. They want rights and opportunities,” she said.
According to their demands, the protestors want free education, from kindergarten to bachelor’s degrees. The state must provide free wheelchairs and other aides. Public sidewalks must accommodate people with disabilities. The state must provide job training programs. Public markets must provide space for merchants with disabilities at half the rental price.