Thammasat Uni Champions Universal Design for Students with Disabilities

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On November 24, 2020, Law students participating in a legal coursework project as part of the Legal Profession course in the Faculty of Law, Thammasat University (TU) hosted a panel discussion, “Thammasat + Braille Block = The Beginning of Equality” on the occasion of Thailand’s Day of People with Disabilities, gathering a large audience.

At the panel discussion, the president of the Thailand Association of the Blind said, “We need to bring the Braille Blocks back, and we should take care of the existing ones too as it could bring more harm than good if left unattended. A TU landscape architecture professor added that students with disabilities in universities with universal design tend to have better academic performance.”

Prof. Wiriya Namsiripongpun, a professor at the Faculty of Law, Thammasat University said, “Even though Thailand has many laws related to the well-being of people with disabilities when it comes to the actual practice, we fell short. Many places don’t think about the universal design at all. To illustrate, Braille Blocks on footpaths are impractical, if not make things worse, since they have never been tested for their efficiency and safety.”

“The United Nations (UN) has set an Inclusive Society or Society for All guidelines, aiming to make society accessible for everyone. The heart of the guidelines is “access,” how we can make sure everyone has access to everything conveniently. To create a society for all, people with disabilities is one of the most important group to keep in mind, because when people with disabilities have access to something, it can imply that there is everyone also has access,” Prof Wiriya continued.

“In many countries, various products have adopted the “for all” policy as one of their selling points, such as iPhone, a phone with accessibility function, or hotels with universal design. Therefore, I strongly support Thammasat’s Braille Block policy to make our university a university for all, which could become our strong suit,” said Prof. Wiriya .

Mr. Kittipong Suthi, Director of Thailand Association of the Blind for Research and Development said, “Despite the fact that Braille Block is a guaranteed way that increases the safety for people with visual impairments, people in Thailand are still unaware of its importance. There are merchants on the footpath blocking the Braille Block. Footpaths are also in poor condition, making it hard to find differences between the Braille Block and the beaten part of the footpaths.”

“If we really work on installing Braille Blocks, making sure they are practical, the quality of people with visual impairments will be significantly improved. However, the situation is really bad. We once had to advise against using the Braille Block since the way they are installed are causing more harm than good to the people who depend on them,” said Mr. Kittipong Suthi.

Assoc. Prof. Chumkhet Sawaengcharoen, Assistant to the Rector for Student Affairs and a professor in the Landscape Department, Faculty of Architecture revealed that Thammasat University will start by installing Braille Blocks at the Rangsit campus to test the “Guiding Block” system, while the Tha Prachan campus will use the “Warning Block” system.

The university also established the design center for studying Universal Design, to carry out related research and process the students’ concerns and complaints, making sure Thammasat is a university for all.

Besides, the quality of life has a strong influence on academic performance. In Thailand, there are three million people with disabilities, but only 1.2 million people got to be in primary school education, only 160,000 proceeds to secondary and high school, and a small fraction of 21,000 people got a chance to complete a degree in higher education. These numbers proved that education for people with disabilities is still not on par, which robbed many great opportunities for them and the country.

“One of the reasons that make education for people with disabilities in this bad condition is the environment that lacks universal design such as footpaths, ramps, or elevators. In the past, Thammasat had once evaluated every building, determine whether it can be used by everyone or not. In the past, every building fails, making the university decided to allocate a budget to renovate and improve the building. If the environment is good for people with visual impairments, their academic performances will be significantly improved,” said Assoc. Prof. Chumkhet Sawaengcharoen.

Mr. Suphanat Leephaisomboon, a student with visual impairment at the Faculty of Law, Thammasat said that he wanted every university to renovate their building to create a better learning environment such as an elevator ride with Braille letter, Braille Block, Classroom that has wheel-chair access path, designing and working on the university’s dormitory, and providing a voice recording that can be used.

Traveling as a people with disabilities is difficult. Some people have to stay in a dormitory that is close to the campus, where the rent is high. Therefore, I want to suggest that the university, both public and private universities, should take this matter seriously such as rent subsidy and discount as well as transportation pricing.” These are things that will definitely help improve the quality of life of people with disabilities.