What Matters To Me: Max Simpson

By Generation T

The Thai coffee shops that give people with disabilities a voice

Tatler Asia

In the What Matters To Me series, a Generation T honouree describes what they do, why they do it, and why it matters

British-born Max Simpson is giving marginalised people a shot at a better life. With partners Uang Hotrakitaya and Sasipha Minchainant, she founded the Steps With Theera coffee shops, training centres where people with disabilities and special needs can learn the practical and social skills needed for employment in the wider world. Here, she describes her work in her own words.

See also: What Matters To Me: Vanessa Cheung

I started Steps With Theera after I had been working in Bangkok for four years as the deputy head of a special needs school and I saw that there were almost no opportunities for the students to graduate and go into meaningful employment. The issue was also personal because I saw the future challenges faced by my younger brother and Uang’s son, who are both on the autism spectrum. Hence we decided to set up Steps around three years ago to tackle the dearth of opportunities available for those with disabilities and special needs, and to address the lack of understanding around those with disabilities in general here. We wanted to give this marginalised community of wonderful people a louder voice.

Awareness takes a long time to build. But I think there’s a fantastic community of advocates here. And in pockets it is building slowly but surely. From a Steps perspective we have a great set of employment partners who are really working hard with us to become inclusive employers. It’s a learning journey that we go on together.

We wanted to give this marginalised community of wonderful people a louder voice
Max Simpson

Our training evolves from three core concepts—skills for life, for employment and for independence. The programme ensures that when they graduate, individuals are work-ready and have a suitable level of independence. We start by building self esteem and progress to teaching specific work skills. When students are ready to transition into paid employment, we work with employment partners on a step by step basis so that all parties are comfortable. Currently we have 20 employment partners and another 15 community partners. That’s a lot but we don’t want to pigeonhole the students into only one or two fields. We want them to have choices, hence our network is growing all the time. At the moment we have 25 trainees, some full time and some doing internships, which is about capacity for us at present. We are in the process of raising funds to move to a new building, which will enable us to double our capacity.

We want to inspire access to Steps-type programmes across the provinces. We have just set up a foundation under the same name so that companies can donate through their CSR initiatives towards scholarships for underprivileged local people with learning differences. That’s something we’ve had in mind from day one and it will be a big focus for us moving forward.

See honourees from the Social Entrepreneurship category of the Gen.T List 2019.

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