Deaf and differently-abled people in Thailand face tough barriers to education and employment

There are 375,680 deaf individuals in Thailand according to the 2018 report by the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security. On average, 94.79 percent of differently-abled people in Thailand had completed primary education, while only 2 percent further go on to complete secondary education.

Undergraduate education amongst differently-abled people plummeted to a mere 0.35 percent, while those with postgraduate education dropped to an alarmingly low 0.26 percent. Needless to say, differently-abled individuals face a different set of barriers in the education system, making entry into the workplace a challenging one.

Established in 2019 by UN Migration Agency’s Child Care and Development Expert, Yuthakrit “Nat” Chalermthai, Edeaf (Education for the Deaf) seeks to bring a new level playing field to Thailand’s inclusive education and workforce development.

“The space for differently-abled and abled individuals to coexist is imperative, we can all coexist happily, safely, and dignifiedly in our community,” Nat told Thai Enquirer.

For the last two years, Nat has been been holding Edeaf workshops for deaf individuals to further develop their skills in various disciplines ranging from technology to design whether it be at schools like Don Bosco Technological College or elsewhere.

Nat draws in like-minded volunteers from all over Thailand to further Edeaf’s initiatives.

One such volunteer is Ruchipat “Aim” Kumpusiri.

“The teacher who I’m close with recently had a child who was born with hearing disabilities. I became interested in understanding more about her and her family and how I would be able to help the deaf,” said Aim.

According to Aim, although Schools for the Deaf (โรงเรียนโสต) equip students with vocational skills through means that cater their needs, she still believes that the skills taught whether it be press-printing or video-editing are very limited and does not allow for “professional work” like that of a financial manager or doctor.

Aim observes that because these students are always learning together, they are more likely to experience culture shock when they are out in the world. Some of Aim’s students have mentioned to her that they do not plan to go onto university because there are no universities in Thailand that have the appropriate means of teaching developed to accommodate the deaf.

“In order to increase the amount of differently-abled individuals in the workplace, we have to start as early as their education. We shouldn’t limit deaf individuals to just skills- and labor-based work, [we need to] allow them to have a chance in exploring knowledge-based work as well. If we are able to create an accepting classroom where both good-hearing and deaf students learn together, we’re allowing deaf kids to know what it’s like in the world outside their community so they’ll be more willing to work with other people in companies”.

Courtesy of EDEAF

When asked about the barriers deaf individuals face in the workplace, Aim said that,“because deaf people cannot do work while chatting like us, they sometimes don’t get involved in conversations, and they even are paranoid that others might be talking behind their backs or criticizing their work.”

So they tend to be unhappy working with others and not get along. They sometimes don’t get promoted as much because their skills are viewed as inferior.”

Beyond day-to-day struggles deaf employees face, the workplace can also pose unnecessary obstacles. Due to the limited number of Thai sign language interpreters in Thailand, deaf employees are unable to access full information during meetings and therefore, be fully involved.

“Once I had been hired as an employee in a certain company, some colleagues who have never worked with differently-abled employees were scared of me. A few were afraid to communicate with me but asked others about me. My manager forced them to communicate with me directly. They learned to communicate with me through writing,” said a deaf representative from Edeaf who did sales reports.

For Edeaf, the passing of Thailand’s Disabilities Rights Law or an equivalent would mean more opportunities for their students and deaf individuals. Educational accommodations such as closed captioning lectures and the provision of sign language interpreters will allow more deaf individuals to rightfully access higher education and with it, knowledge-based careers.

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