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Expert on how Vietnam can be more disabled-friendly

Expert on how Vietnam can be more disabled-friendly

Saturday, August 24, 2019, 12:14 GMT+7
Expert on how Vietnam can be more disabled-friendly
Vo Thi Hoang Yen sits in a room talking to volunteers of Center for Disability Research & Capacity Development. Photo: Tu Trung / Tuoi Tre

A physically challenged Vietnamese woman has pointed out the difficulties people with disabilities have to face in the country, which she believes lacks a supportive environment for the disabled.

Vo Thi Hoang Yen, 53, is a native in Nhon Trach District in Dong Nai Province, around 60 kilometers from Ho Chi Minh City. 

The lecturer, who has two bachelor’s degrees in Vietnam plus a MA in Australia and a PhD in the U.S., now teaches applied behavior analysis at Open University Ho Chi Minh City.

Yen has spent most of her life on a wheelchair, and can only walk with a support of a cane, ever since she was struck with a fever when she was a child.

Yen is also the managing director and founder of the Disability Research and Capacity Development, a nonprofit organization founded in 2005 to improve life quality and social integration of the disabled.

The initials of the center, DRD, is also short for Doi Rat Dep, which means ‘life is Beautiful’ in Vietnamese.

The organization has so far provided hundreds of scholarships for young people with disability to enter college, helped thousands of people get and keep their jobs, and worked with many businesses so that they would start recruiting the disabled.

Yen received Ramon Magsaysay Award, internationally-recognized as the Nobel Prize counterpart of Asia, as a “Hero of Hope”.

Yen has recently had an interview with Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper, during which she underlined the importance of having a disabled-friendly environment in Vietnam, just as in countries she has visited.

She recounted the story of a paralyzed man she met in the U.S., who was able to lead a ‘normal’ life thanks to modern-day devices and inventions that are of great help to people with disabilities.

Such a supportive environment has enabled the American man to become a professor of a college and father of two beautiful children.

Had the paralyzed man lived in Vietnam, he would have well ended up becoming a street beggar or lottery-ticket seller, Yen said, underlining the impacts of a supportive environment on the life and future of people with disabilities.

Vo Thi Hoang Yen
Vo Thi Hoang Yen

Yen said she was once denied a job offer as an accountant after the company saw her walking with a cane at the interview.

Even though her personal experience of the prejudice against people with disabilities happened a long time ago, Yen believes things have not changed much, with the lack of support for the disabled yet to be improved.

“Physically challenged people like myself always have to take two to three times more effort in any circumstances, but in many cases it does not have to be like that,” Yen said.

She elaborated that sometimes the biggest challenges are as simple as schools not having elevators and proper infrastructure for students with disabilities.

“The obstacle can be as simple as the lack of disabled access on the staircases, where people like me have to make a great effort in every step, literally,” she added.

Yen said many businesses have offered to connect with DRD and employ people with disabilities, but it is not easy to find high-quality employees to meet the demand.

“A lot of disabled people have not prepared themselves with sufficient knowledge and skills to meet the requirements,” Yen said, implying that the lack of disabled friendly and supportive environment may be partly to blame.

Yen acknowledged that while there have been many changes to regulations regarding the disabled in Vietnam, the country still lacks policies that would benefit mental health of the disabled, preventing them from opening up and integrating with the world.

“With proper regulations the disabled will be more confident as they feel more encouraged and be able to take skill enhancing courses, ” Yen said.

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