The Supreme Administrative Court (SAC) handed Bangkok’s disabled citizens a victory in January when they ordered the installation of working lifts at all 23 BTS Skytrain stations. Here, BK talks to Suporntum Mongkolsawadi, the 47-year-old figurehead of a group behind the campaign to improve disabled access to public transport.
What is your job?
I’ve worked as the secretary at The Redemptorist Foundation for People with Disabilities (Mahatai) for almost 30 years. Our organization’s main duties are vocational training, finding occupations for, and protecting the rights of the disabled.
 
What sparked the campaign to have BTS stations installed with lifts for the disabled?
We noticed that the BTS wasn’t providing fair services for all, so we decided to sue. Even when they do have elevators, they are closed for public use. We have to wait for ages because it’s hard to get the security guards’ attention to switch on the elevators.
 
Has the ruling made much of a difference?
I’ve heard that some elevators are already open for use, but I haven’t seen any proof. Progress is slow at some other facilities where contracts have been signed. We have formed a team to monitor the situation and we will meet every two months.
 
Apart from transportation, what are some other problems you regularly encounter?
Understanding and awareness of our problems is low. The people in high places don’t understand what we want and tend to just make assumptions. The worst case scenario: they don’t even think about helping us. It’s not just the BTS. Bangkok’s footpaths are another major concern. Even if they’re wide enough for wheelchairs, they tend to lack maintenance, and be full of peddlers, stalls, motorcycles and even cars. We need better management.
 
How can we begin to address these problems? 
Thais need a better understanding of human rights. It’s about respecting the right of others, not just disabled people. One other problem is people look at the disabled and assume that they need help, they need sympathy. But the disabled are people, too, with rights like all citizens. We don’t need mercy.
 
What kinds of discrimination do you face?
Airlines reject us, saying they don’t have the services to cater for the disabled. Others force us to sign agreements to say that if they need to carry us, to get on the plane, we won’t sue them if there is an accident. Even as a kid, I tried to get into a certain school who asked me, “How can you climb the stairs if you have no legs?” But I overcame that. There are always solutions.
 
What does your disabled group aim to do next?
We will work closely with all future transportation projects and on the upgrade of old facilities that need to be improved for disabled access.