Brian Jensen, or ‘Brian Wheelchair’ as many Hua Hin locals call him, is a staunch advocate for disability access. Apart from personal experience, he has the training and industry background to become Hua Hin’s most able disability access consultant.
Brian’s profile in Hua Hin is partly due to his eye catching ‘motor-trike’. This is a custom-made hybrid with two modified Yamaha motorcycles and a ramped entry to a platform between the ‘frames’ to anchor his wheelchair.
The trike is powered by the motor from one bike with an electric motor on the other side for reverse to give Brian the freedom to explore the countryside and beaches. He says he is often stopped by incredulous police who are eager for a ‘selfie’ rather than to show disapproval.
Mark II of his wheelchair-mobile is now being planned as the most advanced wheelchair transport in town. Brian’s disability was caused by a rare spinal infection. “It came like a thief in the night 29 years ago. Three years later I was totally paralysed from the armpits down.” He is a Danish citizen who, for the past nine years, has spent half the year in Hua Hin where the tropical climate gives his body a boost. “Already two days after I came here, I reduced my medicine to half.
I do not understand why others suffer during the European winter when they have opportunities for a better and less painful existence here.” During early ventures to Thailand in the company of family members, Brian realised how he could enjoy a degree of independence and a better quality of life. Living in Thailand was much less stressful than he had imagined. Brian’s 20 years of industry experience in disability products led to him assisting the Hua Hin hospital and organising wheelchairs for local people in need.
“It broke my heart seeing all of these disabled Thais without any form of transportation or the hope of one day getting a wheelchair” says Brian. As well as wheelchair design, he’s now very willing to provide advice to designers, builders or anyone who wants to ensure better wheelchair access.
BEING ‘WHEELCHAIR FRIENDLY’ COMES DOWN TO THREE MAIN ISSUES:
Inclusion in community activities by the disabled is recognised as a basic human right with attitudes around the world changing in recent decades. Brian has seen big changes within his lifetime with wheelchair users being increasingly visible on the streets of his home country. The small number of wheelchairs that are visible in Thailand points to more than the practical difficulties of getting around. It’s also about a society that has yet to fully accept the disabled as equal community members.
Every pedestrian in Thailand knows how to keep one eye several metres ahead and one eye checking on the next step. Imagine the magnified difficulty for wheelchair users with gaping pavement hazards, sidewalk vendors or posts and vegetation in the centre of walkways. Pedestrians may be able to squeeze by, but wheelchair access becomes impossible.
High curbs and steps without ramps complete the impassable obstacle course. Restaurants, banks and other public places are often inaccesable and public toilets for the disabled missing. Sometimes it’s just a matter of raising awarenss. At Brian’s favourite bar a ramp was built to his specifications within days of his request; it wasn’t too expensive or difficult!
Motorbike riders take advantage of any opportunity to use ramps or illegally cross the road. They will also take over restricted parking zones without a thought about those in need. The easy answer has been to place barriers to stop motorbikes which also become barriers to wheelchairs. This remains as a big problem UNTIL rules are enforced and attitudes change. Let’s hope that Brian’s vision for Hua Hin to become Thailand’s most userfriendly city becomes a reality; but there’s a long way to go before best practice is achieved.
Contact Brian if some experienced and informed advice can help.
Contact: www.life-of-brian.dk/thailandengelsk; email wheelchairthailand@ hotmail.com