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4 min read - By Yam Limprayoonyong & Mary Imbong

People with disabilities are having their say

Thai activists speak up to challenge restrictions

Photo credit: Kengnews

On the 13th of January, Thailand was the first country outside China to have reported a coronavirus case. However, Thai nationals have complained that the government might have responded too late. There was an apparent lack of immediate preventive health measures after the coronavirus’s first confirmed case was reported in the country. It wasn’t until late March when authorities declared a national state of emergency–large gatherings were restricted, public places closed, and curfews imposed all over the country.

As with other countries hit by Covid-19, the general public encountered many difficulties coping with business closures and national restrictions. While protests were restricted, many Thai nationals took to our platform to seek accountability by starting campaigns. The permeating atmosphere of restlessness due to government inaction further prompted people to raise their voices and make a difference. 

Like other countries, there was a wave of petitions started by vulnerable groups that, before the pandemic, did not usually turn to Change.org for campaign support. In Thailand, the PWD community was an inspiring example.

In 2019, Change.org Thailand recorded around 388,064 signatures from campaigns that helped advocate the welfare and rights of PWDs. This number grew by 81% in 2020 since the coronavirus outbreak.

One particular campaign that stood out among the thousands of coronavirus campaigns demanded accelerated financial assistance for people with disabilities. 

Suchart Owatwansaku, the Chairman of Disabilities Thailand, started a campaign urging the government to “not leave the 2 million people with disabilities behind” and provide them with cash handouts (approximately USD 166 per month for at least three months). Suchart Owatwansaku is himself caring for a son diagnosed with Down Syndrome–one of around 1,995,767 recorded persons with disabilities in the country, according to the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities. 

Change.org Thailand witnessed a different kind of persistence from him and his supporters alike. Since starting the campaign, national media aired more stories of people with disabilities, and at least 7,000 users signed the petition as of the end of July.

Campaign featured in Thai PBS

Thailand cabinet ministers later approved a project to grant 1,000 baht (approx USD 33) in compensation to 2 million registered persons with disabilities. They also proposed to increase the allowance of 120,000 registered persons with disabilities from 800 baht to 1,000 baht per month, starting the 1st of October, 2020.

Percentage of signatures in support of people with disabilities since 2018

Suchart continues to invite people to support this campaign and to affect change for people with disabilities to receive the attention and support they too need. 

As campaigners, this shift in citizen action reminds us that disability and vulnerability do not equate to powerlessness. Collective action can start with anyone.

Written by – Yam Limprayoonyong
Campaign Strategist, Change.org Thailand
Edited by – Mary Imbong
Learning Associate, Change.org Foundation