As in other countries, people with disabilities in Vietnam have fewer opportunities to go to school, participate in the labor market, access health services, or use public transportation. This situation is due to a lack of: qualified human resources, understanding the benefits of an accessible infrastructure, assistive devices, and awareness on disability issues.
Public areas and transportation that are inaccessible for people with disabilities are particularly problematic, as these conditions prevent them from living independently. For example, public buses do not have accessible ramps for wheelchair users and people with disabilities are often neglected at bus stops because of the misconception of drivers. As a result, people with disabilities miss their school and jobs.
At present the largest city of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City, has no metro system, although plans and construction are underway. Therefore, the public transportation system really centers on the city's extensive bus network. Ho Chi Minh City has a comprehensive network of over 150 bus routes with 2,500 buses, but they are inaccessible for people with disabilities as there are no ramps or accessible bus stops.
To address this issue, a disability-led NGO formed an accessibility task force to outreach to relevant government offices. As a result of their efforts two fully accessible buses were added to the city’s fleet and bus operators now receive disability trainings.
In 2012, the People’s Committee of Ho Chi Minh City approved a project to renew 1,680 buses with reduced emissions and environmental pollution. However, there was no mention of accessibility for disabled citizens. Aware of this plan, Disability Research & Capacity Development Center (DRD), a disability-led NGO, sent a request letter to the People’s Committee and Transportation Department with a suggestion to include people with disabilities in public transportation services. DRD received a response, but the plan to support disabled bus riders remained unclear.
As a first step, DRD started an Accessibility Campaign to provide accessibility training for people with and without disabilities. Attendees from the training formed an Accessibility Task Force Group to check the accessibility of public transportation, not only for physical barriers but also attitudinal barriers. The task force campaigned for accessible buses and collected 500 signatures.
Now with the evidence collected by the taskforce, DRD sent a second request letter to the Ministry of Transportation, the People’s Committee, the city’s Transportation Department, and other relevant departments including the Department of Labour, Invalids, and Social Affairs. This time DRD received good news from the People’s Committee that they would invest in two fully accessible buses and some buses with low floors that are easier to step into for people with mobility disabilities. Additionally, trainings are now provided for bus drivers and conductors on how to support riders with disabilities. Although the number of accessible buses is not much, it is a great start for accessible buses in Vietnam and a great effort of the Governor.
In recent years, the Metro Project Management Board and Ho Chi Minh City Public Transport Management and Operation Center have approached DRD for accessibility consultations. DRD now provides technical support in the field of accessible public transportation and construction.
When speaking about her motivation to bring accessible buses to Vietnam, DRD Representative Luu Loan attributes her experience of access, due to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), in the U.S.. She reflects:
"I went to the U.S. for a leadership training for women with disabilities in 2006 and I cannot forget the day when we explored an accessible bus. I dreamed that my peers in Vietnam could see this model and try it."
Disability Research & Capacity Development Center (DRD) located in Ho Chi Minh City works toward an inclusive and barrier-free society where people with disabilities have the capacity to participate in all activities equally and equitably. They offer capacity building for the disability community and accompany people in a range of advocacy programs. Using this participatory approach, DRD is able to more effectively mobilize community resources and people with disabilities become more confident to raise their voices. To learn more visit the DRD website at www.drdvietnam.org/.
Author: Loan Luu, DRD representative