An NGO advances rights through government collaboration, direct services models, and involving the disability community in decision-making
Approximately 40 people from Vietnam stand in a group in front of a banner. Many of the individuals have apparent disabilities and use wheelchairs.

A training workshop on disability policies for persons with disabilities and DPO leaders in Vietnam

The Accomplishment 

The Vietnam Assistance for the Handicapped (VNAH)’s successful programs have been the result of effective partnerships with the Vietnam government, at the central and local levels, and with persons with disabilities and their organizations. Their support has been instrumental to such important achievements as:

  • The first National Law on Disability
  • The establishment of the National Coordinating Council on Disability
  • The establishment of the Vietnam Federation on Disability and sub-national Disabled People's Organizations (DPOs)
  • The ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)
  • The development of national disability plans of action
What Worked 

In partnership with the government, VNAH has been able to draw on local and international expertise, and to share best practices through international expert visits, study tours that include government and persons with disabilities, assessments, and studies on social and economic benefits of equal rights and opportunity for people with disabilities.

 The opportunities to observe successful policies and services and to meet with government officials, service providers, and advocacy groups that are demonstrating best practices are resulting in far greater awareness by the decision makers in Vietnam.

Dialogues and public consultation in which policymakers, persons with disabilities and their advocates meet, discuss and comment on draft policies and action plans are important steps toward accomplishment of an effective legal framework that promotes and protects the rights of persons with disabilities.

To assist the policy advocacy process, VNAH supports direct service models for persons with disabilities in social, educational and rehabilitation areas. Lessons learned and on-the-ground best practices, shared with policymakers and advocates, have been incorporated into relevant policies or plans at the national level.

 As an example, VNAH’s success in working with businesses to provide on-the-job training and hiring of quality graduates has led to the establishment of a national Employer’s Council that promotes employment for persons with disabilities (the BREC). The Council has over 250 international and local members who have hired over 2,000 persons with disabilities across the country.

VNAH recognizes that responsible stakeholders, including government officials, want to do their best to make society inclusive and enabling for persons with disabilities. They need expertise, consultation and best practices that are appropriate to the Vietnamese environment and culture in order to correct stigma, lack of experience and misinformation. It is essential that this assistance comes from a socio-economic perspective, backed by success stories, rather than by using a theoretical or academic approach.

Strong partnership with the beneficiaries of policies and programs is also an important factor for success. From the early days of the disability programs in Vietnam, VNAH has identified and assisted in capacity building for disability leaders, DPOs and self-help groups, and included them in policy development and implementation processes. VNAH’s approach is to share information, support persons with disabilities to learn what is best for each person and for the community, and assist disability groups to be legally recognized by the government and the public. Through their organizations, the voices of persons with disabilities have become louder, and they have gained confidence and become better equipped to advocate for themselves and serve their members.

 Decision makers have recognized that persons with disabilities know best regarding their own interests and capacity, and should be included in planning and decision meetings with government. Organizations of people with disabilities should be involved in implementation of disability policies and programs.

The initiatives of VNAH were catalysts for the establishment of the Vietnam national DPO, and several sub-national DPOs. Many of these have become strong partners of government and non-governmental entities in disability services and advocacy efforts.

The traditional charity model has left a legacy that is the antithesis of a rights-based and empowerment approach. To address this challenge, VNAH programs encourage government and DPOs to promote education and capacity building, adopt CRPD rights-based principles in the national disability policies and programs, and mainstream disability priorities in socio-economic development plans at the national and sub-national levels. VNAH believes that local disability communities and DPOs will continue to grow strong and become trusted partners of the government, to build an inclusive society that offers equal rights and opportunities for everyone.

About the Author 

This article was written by Bob Horvath of Vietnam Assistance for the Handicapped (VNAH), a U.S. based non-governmental organization that has been implementing development efforts in Vietnam for the past 25 years. With support from various sources (primarily the USAID, United States Agency for International Development) VNAH has provided the Vietnam government with technical assistance and support in the development and enforcement of policies and programs promoting the rights and societal participation of persons with disabilities. To learn more about VNAH, visit their website at: http://www.vnah-hev.org/.

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