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December 31, 2003

Learning to teach with their fingers

From: The Nation, Thailand, Thailand - Dec 31, 2003

A college in Nakhon Pathom is offering disabled people a chance to benefit not only from an education, but also to become role models for others who are physically handicapped.

Ratchasuda College offers bachelor degree programmes in Deaf Studies, and a master of arts can be earned in Rehabilitation Services for the Disabled. There are also postgraduate certificates in Academic Support Services for Blind and Low-Vision People and certificate programmes in Teaching Thai Sign Language and Interpreting Thai Sign Language.

Under the patronage of Her Royal Highness Princess Mahachakri Sirindhorn, the college is part of Mahidol University's Salaya campus. It is open to all qualified students, but its unique blend of courses makes it especially attractive to the disabled, who also find the campus convenient, with wheelchair ramps, guard rails and study materials tailored to their needs.

While most courses run every year, the bachelor's degree in Deaf Studies, a programme not found anywhere else in the country, accepts no more than 120 students every four years. The programmes are open to both the deaf and non-deaf with a Matthayom 6 education, via the college's own entrance examination.

"We expect 100 deaf and hard-of-hearing students and 20 hearing students," said Ratchasuda College director Dr Jitprapa Sri-oon. "The ability to pass our three-part entrance exam is very important, but we do not limit the age of our students; in the first intake of the programme four years ago, we had a student who was 46."

"We have to ensure the quality of students. We want to be confident they can cope with the coursework and will not drop out. The college aims to teach students with the potential to be leaders and role models for those with disabilities," Jitprapa said.

She added that not every hearing-impaired student could expect to be able to attend the college and the student intake could be lower if applicants were not up to standard.

However the limited number of places at the college has disappointed many. "The number of available seats and the timing of the courses are not good enough," complained Nipha Keawprakong, a science teacher at a school for the deaf.

"They should accept students every year. Schools produce Matthayom 6 students interested in those fields of study every year, but they have to wait so long for the opportunity to attend," said Nipha who was accompanying 50 students on a visit to the college.

Jitprapa said that the limited student intake was partly due to the research-based teaching adopted at the college.

"We cannot accept many students because finding sufficient qualified lecturers is still difficult. Few people graduate directly in this field. Those who do not have to be trained first by international experts have to assist the few lecturers we have," Jitprapa added.

Once accepted, undergraduate students are not required to pay any tuition fees, and even receive a meal allowance of Bt2,000 per month, as the college enjoys financial support from the government. The students are only required to pay Bt300 for a medical check-up, a dormitory fee of Bt2,000 per term [all undergraduates are entitled to it], and to pay for all necessary books, stationary and other daily expenses.

The Deaf Studies programme is aimed at educating deaf and hearing students on the sociology of deaf people. There are seven major subjects: History and the Culture of the Deaf, Sign Language Translation, Signing Linguistics, Teaching Thai Sign Language, Education for the Deaf, General Management and Applied Pottery Arts.

The master of arts programme in Rehabilitation Services for the Disabled, takes two years to complete and costs students Bt80,000, excluding accommodation and daily expenses, said postgraduate curricular co-ordinator Wiraman Niyomphol.

"This year we aim to admit 15 students into each of our four areas of specialisation [Rehabilitation Counselling, Access Technology, Administration, and Academic Support Services for Blind and Low Vision Persons]. Classes will begin in June next year," Wiraman said.

Jitprapa said the college's teaching staff includes 19 Thai and foreign academics, as well as visiting lecturers such as Prof Jan Branson, director of the National Institute of Deaf Studies and Sign Language Research at La Trobe University in Australia.

The college also cooperates with the National Technology Institute for the Deaf (NTID) at Rochester University in the United States, and Thukuba College of Technology for the Deaf in Japan, in developing the programmes and exchanging teaching staff for deaf studies.

With its Deaf studies programmes the college places a clear emphasis on catering to deaf people and the hard of hearing.

"The blind and those with other physical disabilities usually find it easier to study among able-bodied students in other institutions, but the deaf have communication limitations and require learning assistance such as sign language translators and note takers," said Wiraman who is visually impaired.

However, the research and support activities at the college for the benefit of visually or physically disadvantaged people also vary, said Wiraman.

For instance, the blind section features computer access technology for blind people such as the digital talking book initiative "Daisy" (Digital Audio-based Information System) and a program for translating Thai into Braille.

The college's infrastructure, buildings and living quarters are designed to be easily accessible for the disabled [handicap-user friendly]. For example, every building in the college has ramps for wheelchairs and rails for the blind, and lifts and passageways link all buildings.

In the library, there is an audio-visual department, a teaching aid production room, a computer room, and other tools and equipment to accommodate all types of the disability. There are also 6,000 books - 140 in Braille - 200 theses, 1,100 lectures on videocassette and 100 magazine titles.

A resource centre provides computer-assisted educational aids for both its own students, as well as a note-taking service, in-class sign language interpreters and tutoring. Several courses in living skills for disabled people are also taught, such as ironing clothes for the blind.

The college also provides non-formal sign language classes for deaf adults and advice for families with disabled children.

The college co-operates closely with the Education Ministry for the provision of in-service training for teachers of the deaf and provides academic support services for disabled students in other educational institutions.

For details on study programmes, contact 0-2889-5315/9 or visit

You can help the disabled through the Ratchasuda Foundation by donating money, assets, stationary, or other useful materials, call 0-2889-2204, 0-2441-0173 or fax 0-2889-2203.

Marasri Boonroj



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