Thammasat University has the highest number of students with disabilities among closed-system universities in Thailand since 2003 when Thammasat decided to launch an admission program for students with disabilities. Piyaphong Iadpum, director of Disabled Student Services Thammasat University (DSS) said that Thammasat has learned and improved a lot in setting up the service center and there have been many opportunities and challenges behind the success of the service center people see today.
The journey of Disabled Student Services Thammasat University (DSS) started back in 2003. In that year, Thammasat launched the admission program for students with disabilities in order to promote equality of educational opportunities for everyone. In 2020, Thammasat has the highest number of students with disabilities among close-system universities in Thailand. There are 76 students in total after the program increases the admissions for students with disabilities in the admission program to 62 students in 19 faculties.
Only 2 years after launching the admission program, Suraphol Nitikraipot, the rector at that time, established the service center because the students with disabilities were falling behind in classes. The service center’s main objective is to provide supports to students with disabilities. With the service center providing support and keeping track of the students’ studies, the results get better. Over 80% of the students have higher overall grades and that was the sign that Thammasat, with DDS, has the potential to accept more students through the admission program.
The increasing numbers of students through the admission program benefits the service center. The students make both the center and the university strive to be better. Now the center goes beyond providing scholarships and supports, they always try to provide the supports without the students asking for it.
Duty of DSS is to support students with disabilities in every way possible. The center is responsible for guidance counseling, student’s preparation, dormitory arrangement, and even implementing universal design in the university. Thammasat believes that equality of educational opportunity is important especially to students with disabilities. In the past, people with disabilities in Thailand don’t even dream about going to university. Most of them tend to focus on vocational training like massaging and crafting. Nowadays, things have changed. Both law enforcement and technology open up educational opportunities for students with disabilities. It is important to focus on their skills, not their disabilities and the pity that they do not need. The center believes that the organization has to understand the importance of the service center because, with such understanding, the hard work of supporting the students will become easier.
Here are some examples of the work DSS does:
Guidance counseling/ Admission program/ Student’s preparation
- Host a guidance counseling session at high schools for students with disabilities to promote the admission program. In the session, the service center makes sure that students understand the curriculum, career paths, and the support they will receive from the university.
- Host a meeting for the admission program, discussing the details for the guidelines of the examination as well as taking care of the students and other matters on the day of the examination. The center also responsible for the test questions, asking the teacher to write an easier version of the test paper, because the admission program is aiming to accept every student with disabilities who has the potential to learn in the system.
- For the student’s preparation, the service center also hosts a meeting between the lecturers and the students to go over the guidelines and details of the course such as how the classes in the university are different from those in high schools.
- Besides helping the students with the study, DSS also takes care of general preparation such as explaining the university map, training the students to use assistive devices.
Dormitory and assistive devices
- Every student with disabilities in the university who wants to stay in the university dormitory will be arranged into the dorm without any exception. The students also able to request a helping buddy or volunteer staff to stay with them in the dormitory.
- Every student with disabilities in Thammasat has the rights to every assistive device they need. Everyone will receive a laptop computer and a voice recorder. Each student also receives the devices according to their needs. For a blind student, they will receive the white cane. For students with visual impairments, they receive an image enlarging devices. For students with mobility impairment, they can borrow both normal and electric wheelchairs to use for the whole time they study in the university and then return when they graduated. For the students with hearing disability, there are hearing and speaking aids and they also can request a class coordinator from the service center to help communicate with the faculty staff and the teachers. The center also takes care of the maintenance cost of all the devices.
- For students with visual impairments, the service center will provide braille instructional materials, textbooks with enlarged text, textbook files that compatible with the voice-over program, or audiobooks.
- There are 4 recording rooms for audiobooks with staff and volunteers help recording the books.
- The students with disabilities that have the disability identification card will receive up to 60,000 baht from the government and up to 70,000 baht if the student study in science-related fields. The money will be used directly only for study fees that the students registered in each year.
- The admission program also provides scholarships to students in need. Each year the service center gives around 25 scholarships with 55,000 baht per year. The students don’t have to pay back to the university, they only have to check in with the service center at least once a week in the first few months and then once a month for the rest of the study years. These check-in session aims to keep track of the students’ study and any other problems being in the university.
- The service center is responsible for making braille or enlarged text and the digital version of the test paper for students with visual impairments.
- The students can also make a request to take their test at the center and a request to increase the test time. The extra time is optional. Should the students need the extra time they have to arrive at the service center before an actual testing time and leave the test room at the same time as other students to prevent any foul play.
Tutoring/ TU BUDDY/ Counselling
- Currently, there are English tutoring sessions by the teacher at the language center available for students with disabilities, and the center is planning on hosting more tutoring sessions in the future.
- There is TU BUDDY, a group of volunteers that aims to help students with disabilities by giving some tutoring in a specific subject or any other support such as walking with the students to the building that he or she has never been to or typing the documents to create the digital version for producing a braille version and even recording for audiobooks. Up to these days, there are over 30 volunteers in the program.
- The staff of DSS also provides a counseling session, talking with the students about their problems both school-related and others.
Implementing universal design
The idea to improve the current buildings and other facilities starts by using only the budget left from buying and repairing the devices and equipment. There have been over 20 projects done by the service center. Some examples of the projects are:
- Renovating the elevators in buildings in the Faculty of Social Sciences, Faculty of Medicine and Faculty of Science. Changing to the elevators specially designed to accommodate everyone by adding braille numbering buttons and voice announcements.
- The current project is to renovate 7 of the rooms on the first floor at the female dormitory, to include a better bathroom and installing other furniture that supports the living such as the closet, study table, kitchen sink, and the ramps in the dorm areas.
Service center common room
The service center also provides other miscellaneous services like the office area for the staff and the common room for the students. In the office, there are, 4 recording rooms, 28 computers set with the screen reader program, and the image enlarging devices for the staff to produce the instructional media and for the students to use. The service center opens Monday through Saturday exclusively for students with disabilities. Students can use the common room to use for both academic purposes and for relaxing in their leisure time.
Everyone is our student, and everyone is important. The organizational culture of Thammasat university values the rights to freedom of opinion and expression of everyone. The students can always exchange their opinion with the teachers and giving feedback to the administration of the university, and they take the students’ opinions seriously, always.