September 22, 2005.
Bangkok Post, Thailand.
More than 200 blind people rallied in front of Government House yesterday, condemning the present and previous administrations for 17 ``disgraces'' endured by the blind community. Protesters carried a leaking coconut shell which, they said, symbolised poverty and help that always ran out and never reached them.
Some had their arms and legs chained to symbolise their state of ``slavery''. All were wearing white T-shirts with the message ``Free slaves, change direction, and give new life to the blind''.
The demonstration coincided with the 100th anniversary of the end of slavery in Thailand. The group demanded the government take the opportunity to free the blind from unfair treatment they have endured.
Monthien Boontan, chairman of the Blind Association of Thailand, said blind people had always been left out of state policies, and lived in slave-like conditions. They were deprived of basic human rights and the rights of Thai citizens, he said.
``The blind have been left in a cycle of pain, poverty and illiteracy. They don't get a chance to learn.
``They don't get jobs. When they go begging on the streets, they are arrested, and freed, and rearrested unendingly, forcing them into a dead end,'' he said.
The 17 disgraces stemmed from negligence and irresponsibility shown by governments from past to present.
One major problem involves blind people's right to citizenship. Many blind people still do not have their names in house registration documents, and cannot be granted identity cards.
``Without ID cards we can get into so much trouble. Blind people can't sign contracts, can't open a bank account, and are not allowed to cast votes in general elections,'' said Mr Monthien.
He said education is another concern as Thailand now has only two state-run schools for the blind, which can accommodate no more than 500 students, while there are up to 100,000 blind people waiting for a chance to receive an education.
The ratio between teachers and blind children is 1:600. Most teachers are unable to read or write Braille, and the government had no plans to tackle the problem, he said.
He said Thai governments have never cared for blind people's rights to information. No public library provides learning materials for the blind, and even the government's websites provide little help to the disabled.
Cities are filled with street furniture and environments that are unfriendly to the blind. ``Blind people often slip into drains with broken covers, we bump into trees, or are hit by motorcycles on the sidewalk,'' he said.
Other issues raised by the group included a lack of visual rehabilitation services for people with impaired sight, inadequate vocational training centres, unfriendly state regulations that prohibit the blind from getting certain jobs, poor government subsidies from the Disabled Rehabilitation Fund, and state ignorance about discrimination against the blind.
The group said Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's populist policies failed to help the blind.
``No more than 30 blind people have ever benefited from the Ban Ua-Arthorn project, less than 100 have gained from the village fund project, and less than 50 were granted loans from the education fund,'' said Mr Monthien.
In a petition handed to Deputy Prime Minister Suwat Liptapanlop yesterday, the group proposed solutions including getting the National Committee for the Blind to supervise both policy and budget management regarding blind people's affairs.
The protesters also demanded the government review the management of the Government Lottery Fund to make it more helpful to disadvantaged groups.
Source URL: http://www.bangkokpost.com/News/23Sep2005_news13.php.
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