Bringing hope to the disabled

Tech November 29, 2016 09:31

By Asina Pornwasin
The Nation

2,868 Viewed

A training workshop aims to impart coding and programming skills to those with disability so they can have a higher quality of life

People with disabilities are capable of doing many more things for their livelihood than just selling lottery tickets. Computing programing and coding is definitely one practical way to help boost the quality of life of those with disability. 

Sangwan Nonthaboon, who studied until Pathom 6 and started to learn computer coding at the Redemptorist Foundation for People with Disabilities (Mahatai) in Nong Khai Province, is one example. He was not born handicapped but it befell on him six years ago when he was shot by a rival.

He finished Pathom 6 with no knowledge of the English language. But he has taken up coding wholeheartedly because he wants to seek better opportunities in his life.

A lot has changed for him in the last six years. In the early days, after he became disabled, he was depressed and spent all the time at home. He played computer games to cope with his depression. Playing the games made him familiar with computers so, when he decided to learn coding at the Mahatai Foundation, he found he could do so without any difficulty.

Sangwan now works as a teaching assistant at the Mahatai Foundation in Nong Khai province. Last week, he came to Bangkok for a training workshop called YouthSpark, organised by Microsoft Thailand, the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society, the Redemptorist Foundation for People with Disabilities (Mahatai), and ChangeFusion. “We plan to impart training in computer coding not only to people with disabilities in Nong Khai but also to those in nearby provinces in the Northeast region,” said Sangwan.

Nakarin Layette is a computer program graduate with disability from Mahatai and now works as application development manager at HSBC. He has been with the banking giant for almost 11 years. He said he started doing [computer coding] well because of his love for technology. He does coding by feel and uses only one hand. He learnt computer programing and graduated from the Redemptorist Foundation for People with Disabilities. 

“We cannot stop learning and we have to catch up with new technologies and innovations even if we have disability,” said Nakarin.He urged those with disability to live like normal people, and instead of staying indoors they should go out and show the world that disabled people can work well instead of just being lottery ticket sellers. 

“Computer technology is an opportunity for people with disabilities to develop themselves successfully. With coding knowledge, I can support my family well and my life has been getting better since then,” said Nakarin.

Witaya Puphala, a handicapped programer and webmaster for LK Group Pattaya

Meanwhile, Witaya Puphala, a handicapped programer and webmaster for LK Group Pattaya, said that technology is developing at a rapid pace. In today’s context, IT skills are just as important as linguistic and communication skills.

“I believe that technology will help us rapidly gain access to a wealth of information, which will lead to limitless learning and create equal opportunities for all, no matter who you are and where you are, as long as you know how to utilise it,” said Witaya.

The YouthSpark workshop is conducted for youths with disabilities to enhance their problem-solving, critical-thinking and coding skills – which can be seen as highly-prized assets in the ‘Thailand 4.0’ era – and offer equal career opportunities in a landscape where digital-oriented skills stand to add greater value to Thailand’s economy, said Siriporn Pajharawat, director of developer experience and platform evangelism (DX) Group, Microsoft Thailand.

Siriporn Pajharawat, director of developer experience and platform evangelism (DX) Group, Microsoft Thailand

“In a world in which technology is driving rapid change, one of the most important challenges we face is to ensure that disruption is balanced by equal opportunity for all. Under Microsoft YouthSpark, we seek to inspire and support people of all abilities to advance a future where the benefits of technology, and the opportunities it can open, reach those who need it most. Microsoft will invest its strongest assets – technology, employees and partnerships – as well as grants to train children and youths with disabilities at ICT learning centres around the country,” said Siriporn.

Attendees taking part in YouthSpark will have an opportunity to participate in coding training sessions inspired by Minecraft, a hugely popular game for kids of all ages, and a captivating environment for effective learning. Apart from the Minecraft-based tutorial, the coding sessions feature three more creative activities: ‘Computer Around You’, ‘Graph Paper Programming’ and ‘Self-Coding with Microsoft Touch Develop’. These activities are created to equip youth with programing, algorithm and logic skills.

According to the Department for Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities, 2016 data shows that only 28.56 per cent of the handicapped workforce, or 213,896 persons, are actually employed, while 397,800 (53.11 per cent) remain jobless.

Pichan Jaisaree, president of the Redemptorist Foundation for People with Disabilities, said that today there are countless laws and regulations to support and create equal opportunities for people with disabilities. For instance, Section 33 from the Persons with Disabilities Empowerment Act, BE 2550 (2007), revised in BE 2556 (2013), states that a workplace employing 100 workers or more is bound by law to recruit one disabled person, or at a ratio of 100 to 1, to broaden employment opportunities for the handicapped. However, there still remain a large number of unemployed handicapped people due to the lack of in-demand professional skills – a factor that changes over time depending on the shifting needs of the employers. IT and computer skills now rank among the most valuable skills in the job market.

“It is wonderful to see that Microsoft has given great importance to development of coding skills in youth of all abilities. Through these skills, they can pursue better career opportunities, foster self-reliance, and achieve their lifelong goals in an era of ever-changing economic and social landscapes,” said the president.

Siriporn added that by 2020, the world would need 6 million IT people. Microsoft aims to help the country create the IT people to fill in the needs of industries through the digital transformation era. Under the YouthSpark initiative, it aims to train 7,000 people in coding – 6,000 in the rural area and 1,000 people with disabilities.

“We launched the YouthSpark initiative in Thailand four years ago; in the first two years we trained the youth on how to use the technologies while in the last two years we turned our focus to training the youth and those with disabilities. We have trained 40,000 people in coding in just the last two years, both online and offline,” said Siriporn.