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Stanford graduate advocates for disability rights and empowerment in Thailand

When Oranicha (Natty) Jumreornvong decided to leave her home in Thailand to attend Stanford University, her family was uneasy about her decision. Jumreornvong explained in a Stanford News story:

They were concerned that the academic challenges of Stanford and cultural differences between Thailand and the U.S. would be too much for a daughter. Looking back, I understand that their disagreement with my academic choices was out of love.

Rather than being dissuaded by her family’s concerns, Jumreornvong took them as a challenge. She explored business, medicine, social sciences, art and engineering through jobs, internships, academics and extracurriculars. As a second-year, she was accepted to the FlexMed program at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, which grants early acceptance to undergraduates who show exceptional self-direction and a passion for human rights and social justice.

Jumreornvong’s mentor Donald Barr, MD, a professor of pediatrics who's shown in the photo above, said he sees her journey as a great example of an untraditional path to medical school, something he champions because he believes could result in more well-rounded physicians. He explained:

It has been very valuable to me to watch her come into her own and it revalidates the energy and support I provide to other students.

Most of Jumreornvong’s work is focused on helping people with disabilities in Thailand, where there is stigma and misinformation regarding mental illness and physical disability. As a first-year, Jumreornvong co-founded a social enterprise, called QRist, following the death of a childhood friend with disabilities. This death occurred as the result of a medical record error and likely happened because her friend lived in a rural area, said Jumreornvong:

In rural areas of Thailand, there are usually only paper records. With monsoons that damaged the paper records and the many different languages used by the villagers, it's hard for doctors to read medical records.

QRist developed a fingerprint-based medical record app that has since been used by 20 mobile clinics serving over 5,000 patients with chronic disabilities and spinal injuries in Thailand.

Jumreornvong has also urged science, technology, education and medicine students in Thailand to develop assistive technologies that would allow people with disabilities take part in STEM research. She has inspired fellow Stanford students to work in Thailand, fostering entrepreneurial opportunities for people with disabilities. Currently, Jumreornvong is working to develop policies that will provide stronger protections for people with disabilities in Thailand.

Moving forward, Jumreornvong said she isn't sure exactly what the future holds:

Knowing me, I'm probably going to change my mind 10 times regarding what I'm going to do with my life. But I know I want to be able to combine different skill sets – policy, research and business strategy – to create impact on a global scale.

Previously: Seeing the beauty in disability
Photo by L.A. Cicero

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