The global community of Ashoka deeply mourns the loss of Fellow Narong Patibatsarakich. His remarkable and inspiring story combined with a powerful and gentle spirit drove him to change the world not only for himself but for other people with disabilities. His life is a true testament to the statement “for the good of all.”
Narong, known as Khun, was the first Ashoka Fellow selected in Thailand in 1989. He was the founder of “Disabled Peoples International, Regional Pacific Office” which organized Thailand’s many classes of disabled people to challenge the belief that disability is shameful or a penalty. He believed that “getting a job is real happiness for the disabled.”
“He changed Thailand. He changed large parts of the world. He changed the lives of so many of those with disabilities. And in the process he allowed everyone to have a larger spirit as he helped the world overcome its fear and prejudice.” said Bill Drayton, founder and CEO of Ashoka.
As a young man Narong entered the Royal Military Academy in 1951 looking forward to a powerful career. Two years later, he was struck by rheumatoid arthritis, spending two and half years in the hospital emerging with a fused spine and other joints locked in place. This disability ended his military career and made it very difficult for him to find a job.
Finally, he found a very low paying job at a library for the blind. He made it possible there for blind students to get an education by producing braille book cards and tapes for free distribution. Eventually he was able to save enough money to go to study law and regain his confidence. Ten years after he left the hospital, he received his law degree from Thammasat University.
His organization not only changed attitudes towards persons with disabilities but built a concrete set of supports including basic laws that would ensure the disabled rights of access, (ramps, curb cuts) education and work. His vision was to make disabled persons full members of society.
Ashoka offers its deepest condolences to Narong’s family, friends and community in Thailand.