In March 2008, VNAH sponsored Vietnam’s Conference on the drafting of a new national disability law. The event, which brought together representatives of government ministries, international experts and speakers, and representatives of organizations for people with disabilities, signaled Vietnam’s commitment to the development and implementation of a new, comprehensive law on disability. I was honored to speak at the conference regarding the inclusion of people with disabilities in the workforce and the functioning of the employment provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The conference and the initiative by VNAH and Vietnamese lawmakers could not have been more timely. In May 2008, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – to which Vietnam is a signatory - entered into force. The Convention is the first legally binding international treaty to focus on the rights of persons with disabilities, and is swiftly altering the global disability landscape.
The Convention marks an important shift in perception about disability as a human rights issue as opposed to a health or social welfare issue - and has been lauded by many as a landmark in the evolution of an international commitment to the rights of people with disabilities. The Convention enumerates the human rights of persons with disabilities and identifies the obligations on State parties to promote, protect, and ensure those rights. Among the rights specifically identified in the treaty are the right to equality before the law without discrimination, the right to privacy, the right to live in the community, the right to education, the right to health, the right to work, and the right to participate in political, public, and cultural life. States that are parties to the Convention are required to adopt legislation to promote the aforementioned rights and abolish discrimination, and must also take general steps to protect and promote the rights of people with disabilities in all policies and programs and to ensure that both the public and private sector respect the rights of people with disabilities. Parties must also promote development and research regarding universally designed goods and accessible communications and information technologies.
The Convention is gaining in signatories and ratifications at unprecedented speed, and Vietnam – like many countries - is poised to create legislation that comports with the principles of the Convention and which will further the inclusion and participation of people with disabilities in all spheres of life. Implementing laws and policies to facilitate the contributions and develop the skills of people with disabilities can dramatically promote economic development in Vietnam and other countries where disability rates are high due to past or present war and poverty.
The Conference was an exciting event heralding a new dawn for Vietnam’s population of people with disabilities, their families, and the country as a whole. Recent years have seen remarkable growth in Vietnam, and the development of a new disability law is yet another important step in this impressive evolution.
Elisabeth Doyle is an attorney with the law firm of Powers, Pyles, Sutter & Verville, where she focuses her practice in the area of disability. Elisabeth has also worked with PPSV principal John D. Kemp to advise the US Business Leadership Network, an organization comprised of numerous national and international businesses that are dedicated to increasing the integration of people with disabilities in the workforce.