At Long Last: Disabled Help Set Policies
In May 2002, through the unflagging support of VNAH, I made my second trip to Vietnam to attend the two-day workshop in Da Nang to work with various Ministries, Vietnamese people with disabilities and others in assisting Vietnam’s National Coordinating Council on Disability (NCCD), in setting priorities. The productive workshop centered on four critical areas – employment, self-help groups, barrier-free access and public awareness – essential for the independence, full participation and economic self-sufficiency of people with disabilities in Vietnam.
My first trip to Vietnam was to participate in a conference of the Vietnam National Assembly, which saw the formation of the NCCD as a governing body with responsibility and oversight of programs and policies that include people with disabilities. Since then, NCCD and the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs (MOLISA), with the able counsel of VNAH, have steadily worked to advance Vietnam’s commitment in the implementation of its standards requiring the inclusion and integration of people with disabilities in Vietnam.
I observed incredible progress at the conference in Da Nang. The meeting included strong and passionate advocacy from the government and a cross-section of people with disabilities, many of them clearly emerging leaders. At one point, Le Van Anh from Ha Noi, presented his report in sign language, using a sign language interpreter that he had personally trained to provide a spoken interpretation of the report. This presentation was made all the more impressive by the fact that when I met Le Van Anh along with three other deaf Vietnamese at the National Assembly conference a year and a half prior, the lack of a Vietnamese sign language interpreter anywhere in Ha Noi meant that they could not understand the proceedings much less actively participate in them.
In Da Nang, the various presenters provided input to MOLISA and representatives of the VN government regarding areas that have seen improvements, areas that still need attention, and a prioritization of these areas. I perceived this conference as one of the defining moments in the history of people with disabilities in Vietnam. The advances that have taken place in such a short time in Vietnam bodes well for the continuing participation and production by people with disabilities in employment, and their access to the same programs and policies available to people without disabilities.
Conference attendees who wished to make the trip were taken by bus to Duy Xuyen district to take part in the presentation of wheelchairs designed to be used in the terrain in this rural area of central Vietnam. In addition we were able to observe technicians in their work of measuring and making casts or molds for the future manufacture of prosthetic limbs. The entire process was well
coordinated by VNAH and the positive results were readily evident as we observed people who were able to independently transport themselves after years of being without appropriate equipment or support.
NCCD’s mandate is to begin coordination among various ministries in Viet Nam to ensure public access to people with disabilities and greater public awareness throughout Viet Nam to the issue of disability in general. Vietnam and all those who have helped are to be commended for its efforts and the advances that have been made in such a short period of time. With the inclusion of Vietnamese with disabilities in the development of policies and programs aimed at advancing their independence and self-sufficiency, Vietnam is undoubtedly headed in a positive direction for all. The US National Council on Disability and I are proud to be part of this progress.
Jeff Rosen is the General Counsel and Director of Policy for the National Council on Disability, www.ncd.gov.