We at Chiang Mai University School of Public Policy (SPP) believe that societal diversity should be acknowledged, understood, and celebrated. We all can do our best to ensure that everyone can live to our highest potential. This is why SPP is helping policy-makers and others support the cultivation of equitable communities that have appreciation for social variety integrated into their socio-fabric.

An aspect of social inclusivity, or lack thereof, pertains to ‘disability.’ Being abled or less- abled is subjectively defined based on various benchmarks and cultural criterions. Many people carry sentiments that those with seemingly hampered physical or mental abilities are somehow “disabled,” less productive, and in-need of sympathy and charity. It is necessary that these status quo, marginalizing, narratives become reshaped. Fortunately, a new discourse-paradigm is emerging that accentuates how some folks are actually ‘differently-abled,’ while experiencing a human condition that can happen to any of us.

SPP, wholeheartedly supporting of this initiative, is advocating for improved understanding of differently-abled communities. We are particularly focusing on how universities play important functions in molding what society values and therefore how, or whether, those who are differently- abled are viewed and embraced. Thus, strengthening the role of higher education is imperative for supporting disability studies and therefore promoting diversity awareness. This, rather than teaching about disability, is about illuminating the culture of disablement and incorporating a ‘differently-abled’ paradigm into all socio-contexts and professions.

Advocating for differently-abled person’s opportunity to enroll in universities, so that he or she also may flourish, is a human rights matter. What is needed is the creation of inclusive living and learning environments that facilitate access to higher education and also a high quality life. This includes understanding people’s overall abilities, as well as ensuring access to necessary facilities that capacitate full mobility within these environments. Universal design of university campuses, for example, is a key element of uplifting higher education environments and therefore society at large. This pertains also to urban space planning overall, including wheelchair-friendly public transport and walkways.

SPP, while being the regional center for deliberating this topic, is collaborating with local and international partners in pushing for inclusive, innovative, and progressive public policies that are raising awareness about, and increasing opportunities for, differently-abled people.