Narong

Ashoka Fellow
Thailand,
Fellow Since 1989

Citation

This profile was prepared when Narong Patibatsarakich was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1989.
The New Idea
Narong's chief focus now is on jobs. Reflecting on his own sense of near despair when he could find nothing, he commented, "Getting a job is real happiness for the disabled." However, he also recognizes that the ability to contribute requires rehabilitation, that prevention is far preferable, and that individual victims as well as a broad disability movement must deal with all aspects of the problem.

He founded and became the first chairperson of the Association of the Physically Handicapped of Thailand and then of the even broader umbrella Council of Disabled Persons of Thailand. With his colleagues he is pushing for a basic law that would ensure the disabled of basic rights of access (e.g., through construction of ramps and curb cut-outs at key points), to education, and to work.

Narong studied law at home because he could not travel to and from university. Once he finally got a job, he drafted several particularly intriguing employment provisions, e.g., government agencies and companies with two hundred or more employees must either hire one half of one percent of their work force from among the disabled or pay a penalty equal to this portion of their staff paid at a minimum wage rate. These penalties would then go into a special fund that would pay for access ramps and other investments needed to ensure the disabled equal opportunity.

Since, according to the United Nations, roughly ten percent of the population suffers one form or another of significant disability, this provision is not intended to create adequate demand. Narong's objective is to open up the country's thinking. Seeing disabled people contribute equally in many of the country's most visible institutions is ultimately the best argument against leaving them hidden in back rooms and dependent. Right now he is preparing a booklet describing 30 successful job placements.

Heretofore what little help had been available for the disabled had gone to a visible, generally urban, token few. Narong is determined to reach all the others.

The most advanced thinkers in the field have increasingly been talking about "community-based rehabilitation" or CBR, but the statistics remain grim. Narong estimates that in Thailand "not more than 2% receive some kind of rehabilitation services." He is not only going beyond rehabilitation to jobs, but he must cause thousands of villages and slums to change how they perceive and deal with their disabled neighbors. To do that, he knows he must work through other institutions. He is especially hoping to tap the Ministry of Public Health's volunteers, religious leaders (he has been encouraged by the recent reaction of one Buddhist abbot), and private voluntary organizations. (Two of the most important voluntary rural development groups, both headed by Ashoka Associate Members, have expressed strong interest after meeting Narong during the election process.) Narong expects these grassroots leaders to identify and give primary help to their area's disabled. Moreover, "the cost of running the project is cheap but the result is the concept or attitude that will be within the resource persons in the community forever."

Not everything can be done at the village level alone. Narong will provide backup support, including guidance volumes. One of his first objectives is to open an emergency house just outside Bangkok where needy disabled people will be able to stay for a while when they come to the capital for specialized training or care.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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