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Life in Chiang Mai


Moving around Chiang Mai is a challenge for the differently-abled

By Paul Surtees
Spare a thought, dear reader, for what life in Chiang Mai must be like for those people, local as well as expats, who are not quite so agile as others: for the differently-abled. I write of those in wheelchairs, of the blind, the infirm, the frail, the aged, and of those walking with a stick, or on crutches.
The growth of modern shopping malls here has also meant that there are now more places to which disabled people can gain access relatively easily, as they mostly have slope access ramps and lifts - making it possible for someone in a wheelchair to enter and to get around them with ease. But it is, lamentably, still a very different story in other parts of town.
Many pavements are blocked by the thoughtless placement of street furniture. Lamp posts, post boxes, telephone kiosks, rubbish bins, traffic barriers, poles holding overhead cables and others have too often been allowed to be ill-situated, such that they block the pavement for everyone.
Sidewalks are often completely blocked by lines of wrongly-parked motorbikes and/or the placement of street vendor kiosks, tables and stools. This is difficult for even the able bodied, how much more tricky must it be for the disabled to try to get along them, when hampered by such an obstacle course!
Then there is the all-too-common obstacle of a flight of steps, even at the kerbside, with no handrail and no slope either. Such steps at the entrances to banks, shops, hotels, guesthouses, apartment buildings, and even some hospitals represent great hindrances to the access of our disabled brothers and sisters. To the able-bodied, a few stairs are nothing to even think about. But for many such steps may well represent a completely impassable barrier.
Pedestrian crossings controlled by traffic lights often change from red to green quickly so that few can dart across the road before the traffic again begins to roar past. And there are not enough such crossing places in busy areas of town. The differently-abled are therefore often unable to cross the road.
So, attempting to get around town on the city’s pavements represents a challenge enough. It is a further cause for regret that Chiang Mai has, as yet, scant provision of public transport. If you are in a wheelchair, and do not have a family car to travel in, you are stuck! Because getting into a tuk-tuk or songthaew is probably more than you can manage; and car-style taxis are still a rare sight on Chiang Mai’s roads.
Is it any wonder that we rarely see wheelchair-bound local people out and about around this town? Sadly, the obstacles listed above mean that many of them are confined to their residences. It is easier in Bangkok, where lifts give access to many Skytrain and underground train stations, and where taxis are plentiful.
Chiang Mai still has a long way to go before those less agile among us can get around town with ease. Let us hope that, as this city develops further, the needs of the less agile are taken more fully in to account when new building and road projects are planned.

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Moving around Chiang Mai is a challenge for the differently-abled