I first started writing this piece back in June 2015 and as often happens, I never found the time or inspiration to go back to it, until seeing a few Tweets in the past week about how tough Bangkok is for the disabled.
The issue is a hot topic right now due to the legal battle with the BTS by a group of people who are wheelchair-bound to have all stations fitted with lifts allowing easy access to the network.
Being disabled goes much further than being stuck on four wheels, which is what many first think when they hear the word.
In my home country I am legally blind. I have roughly 8% the vision of a fully sighted person. I don’t use a guide dog, although entitled to one back in Jockland, no white stick either and don’t require braille to read.
There are several problems with my peepers including oculocutaneous albinism, OCA2.
The most common type of albinism, is caused by mutation of the P gene. People with OCA2 generally have more pigment and better vision than those with OCA1, but cannot tan like some with OCA1b. A little pigment can develop in freckles or moles. People with OCA2 usually have fair skin but often not as pale as OCA1, and pale blonde to golden, strawberry blonde, or even brown hair, and most commonly blue eyes. [Source: Wikipedia]
The fun stuff doesn’t end there as I also have congenital idiopathic nystagmus.
Congenital Idiopathic Nystagmus
Children are born with this condition. This is what Congenital means. Idiopathic is a medical word used when nobody understands the cause of a condition. Congenital Idiopathic Nystagmus may occur by chance but it often runs in families. One parent may be affected and other children may also be born with the condition.
And that old saying things come in three’s is spot on when it comes to my mince pies as we have some Astigmatism to top it all off.
That’s Stickboy. Or as my mates back home call me, Stevie.
The vast majority of people who meet me have no idea that I’m as blind as a bat and that comes from years of adapting to a condition I was born with. I’m not allowed to drive or do certain jobs but beyond that I just get on with life and do my best not to let my poor eyesight get in the way of what I want to do.
What I can and cannot see is a nightmare to describe and there’s no easy examples to give.
Now I’m not writing this looking for sympathy – that’s the last thing I want and you can stick it where the sun don’t shine if it crosses your mind. I just thought I’d share what it’s like to live in Bangkok from the point of view, or lack of so to speak, from someone who is partially blind, or “visually impaired” for the PC plonkers out there.
So what’s it like to live in Bangkok as a “blind man”? Well, not much different to anywhere else really.
I bet I’m not the only one who has busted their ankle on a dodgy footpath, which is probably the #1 hazard for me. I’ve went over on it a few times and been holed up for weeks after tripping on a broken pavement.
Avoiding getting hit by a motorbike on a footpath isn’t as bad as you might think as I usually hear the motorsai madmen coming before I can see them.
Dodging around hot pots and pans filled with fat always has me walking slower as does the rain. Mix both and I’m looking for an alternative route or a tuk tuk.
Getting around Bangkok is easy despite not being able to drive, however, when I stayed down in Phuket for a short period it was a nightmare due to the lack of public transport and ripoff taxis.
I can’t read Thai as the nature of the language with far less spacing like English plus the tone marks etc make it impossible in normal daily use such as a reading a newspaper or book, street signs, menus and such.
I’m unable to read many signs or menus in English anyway so again, not much difference there but frustrating at times as it would be handy.
One recurring problem I face is people thinking I’m an ignorant twat.
Only last month I walked past one friend who called me over for a chat only for him to tell me four other friends were sat behind us not 3 meters away. Embarrassed doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt. On the other hand it’s a great excuse when I do see someone I’d rather avoid. 555+
Bangkok is a crowded place and that means I’m not gonna see you in a crowd or somewhere with lots of movement. Walking down the street my attention is on where I’m walking, not on those around me.
At night or in a bar this becomes ten fold and this is when I’m out most as I avoid going during the day like the plague to keep myself out the sun. Ten minutes and I’m burning like bread stuck in the toaster. I do go out in daylight hours, just not very often and most times I’ll wear a long sleeved shirt.
I’m sure others with poor eyesight “see” things differently to me when it comes to living here but it’s all about your outlook in life – I get on with it and make the best of the hand I was dealt. I could be sat back in Scotland taking government hand outs, feeling sorry for myself and living a life full of doom and gloom.