By Chularet Saengpassa
In a country whose retirement-age citizens account for 12 per cent of the population and growing, better ways should be found to accommodate older mourners.
How can we permit people in their 80s to queue for hours in front of the Grand Palace, where His Majesty’s remains now rest?
Why, after making what might be long and difficult journeys, must so many elderly Thais give up hope of prostrating before the King’s remains simply because they are not strong enough to wait in line for hours?
Every day and every night, elderly men and women can be seen outside the Palace, their palms pressed together in silent prayer for the monarch. That’s as far as their physical health will allow them to go.
His Majesty’s life mission to help the rural poor began some 40 years ago. Citizens who have now reached retirement age can recall the details of that remarkable mission as it unfolded. Many of them are making the trip by bus or car in the hope of paying their respects to a much-revered monarch. Yet, after hours of travel, they find the gates of the Palace effectively shut to them.
The simple solution would be to provide special lines for the elderly to allow them speedy and convenient access. A daily limit of 500 people could be placed on these lines.
Simply providing wheelchairs and first aid for queuing mourners who need them is not equivalent to facilitating the elderly, who have special and distinct needs. These are accommodated elsewhere at places like District Offices, which have senior-only lanes for those waiting to register for new national identification cards.
Western countries have set the bar here, building elderly and disabled access into the fabric of their public infrastructure.
At the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, wheelchair visitors get priority entrance to minimise queuing time. The British Museum in London offers free admission to special exhibitions for companions of the elderly or disabled. This is on top of ensuring full accessible facilities including toilets and locker rooms.
Considering the huge numbers, it’s understandable that Thai authorities have found it difficult to accommodate all mourners at the Grand Palace. But given that one month has passed since the King’s death, we should expect better.
Authorities say an online reservation system for visits is being developed and should be functioning by December 1. They haven’t said how many people per day will be able to reserve a visit, or what will be done to help those who can’t book a place online.
Also unclear is how long the Palace gates will remain open to mourners, confusion that has exacerbated overcrowding by people rushing to the Palace to pay their respects.
It’s time for the authority concerned, namely the Joint Administration for Security and Order in the Grand Palace Vicinity, to rethink its approach.
The advance-reservation system is a good start, but more must be done to facilitate elderly and disabled mourners.