As I mentioned in my previous email, Topong passed away at 11:20 (Thai local times) on 7 June 2007. He returned from the South Asian workshop on ‘Capacity Building of Southern Disabled People’s Organizations in Bangladesh on 4 June. At that time his condition was bad, so that he stayed at home for a while. Then he developed a high fever over 40 degrees and was taken to the Army Hospital. In the night on 6 June, his condition turned to be critical. He had cardio-respiratory arrest 5 times until the morning. After the struggle with illness, while he was taken heart massage from doctors, he passed away.
Topong was a great leader of disability movement. Before he became disabled in 1986, Topong had served Royal Thai Army. Following his graduation from Royal Military Academy in 1981, he extended his study and training at the US. Army Infantry School in 1984-85. He got car accident during his patrol duty near Thailand-Malaysia border in 1986, injured his cervical cord, and became quadriplegic. He was promoted to be lieutenant colonel after leaving the army in 1989. While taking rehabilitation at the hospital, he participated in DPI Regional Assembly held in Thailand in 1988.
His encounter with disability sector led him to deep commitment to equal opportunities of persons with disabilities in society. Then he got a chance to participate in the Nagoya City Handi-Marathon and to visit an independent living center, Human Care Association, in Japan. During his visit, he stayed my home and learned that a person with severe disability could live in community not in hospital. He began to live in community where he started to drive a car and to write by himself.
Then he became President of the Association of the Physically Handicapped in Thailand (APHD) and developed APHD from a small organization coving only Bangkok area to a nation-wide organization. He was also an activist in an independent living (IL) movement, after he had invited to an IL study trip in USA in 1991 organized by the Human Care Association. He was always a great leader of our movements, such as establishing Rehabilitation Law, making accessible stations of Bangkok Sky-train, and organizing campaign for barrier-free new Bangkok airport. Appointed as Regional Development Officer of DPI-Asia-Pacific region in 1999, he used his talent for fostering young leaders with disabilities in Asia and the Pacific. His attractive character caught many disabled persons’ minds and brought unprecedented success in the last 20 years of disabled persons’ movements in Asia-Pacific region. In the region, there is no person with disability who has never heard of Topong Kulkhanchit.
Our strong movement deeply owes to his activity. Once he said “Leader works when staff are tired. Leader keeps awake to work when staff go to bed. Leader works without taking meal when staff are hungry.” He spent his life as his words. He continued his fight until his last moment and I believe he fulfilled his life.
May he rest in peace. I also offer my sincere condolences to his wife Ying, and his mother and sister.
We persons with disabilities left behind carry his torch and continue to fight to realize his vision of society of equality and full participation.
Chairperson, DPI Asia-Pacific Region