USAID funds initiative showing how laws reduce barriers for disabled people
By Todd Bullock
Washington File Staff Writer
Washington -- A joint effort between the governments of the United States and Vietnam and a U.S. nongovernmental organization (NGO) soon might make the lives of disabled people in Vietnam a little easier.
Five legislators and a staff member from the Vietnamese National Assembly's Committee on Social Affairs (CSA) traveled to the United States September 21-29 to discuss disability legislation and related issues with U.S. officials. Their trip was organized by Vietnam Assistance for the Handicapped (VNAH), a Virginia-based NGO, and funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
With 6 million disabled people, Vietnam has one of the world's highest rates of disability per capita.
"The focus of the tour is for the legislators to study how the United States has worked on disability issues to reduce barriers that people with disabilities face in employment, housing, transportation, and other aspects of society," VNAH President Ca Van Tran said in a September 28 interview with the Washington File.
The Vietnamese delegation met with staff members from the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Aging to discuss how the U.S. Congress monitors and oversees implementation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The ADA, which was signed into law on July 26, 1990, ensures equal access to employment opportunities and public accommodations for people with disabilities. It guarantees that no person with a disability can be excluded, segregated or otherwise treated differently from individuals without disabilities. With this act, Congress identified as a national goal the full participation, inclusion, and integration into society of people with disabilities.
Bob Horvath, a consultant with USAID's Bureau for Global Health, said USAID program officers met with the Vietnamese delegation and discussed best practices for designing comprehensive disability legislation, including fund allocation and inclusion of citizens' and civil society groups in the development and monitoring of laws and regulations. USAID provided the delegation with materials and contacts for additional assistance.
The delegation met with the U.S. Commission on Disabilities, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Departments of Justice and Labor, and various job creation and rehabilitation centers that provide services to the disabled.
During these meetings, Tran said, the participants discussed topics such as effective methodology for implementation of disability laws and national-level enforcement of disability rights.
In an attempt to address these issues, the Vietnamese National Assembly passed the National Ordinance on Disabled Persons in November 1998. The legislation was intended to create favorable conditions for disabled persons to exercise their political, economic, cultural and social rights. Similar to the ADA, it guaranteed that no person could be excluded, segregated, or otherwise treated differently from individuals without disabilities.
But even though the law helped raise public awareness on disability issues and helped people with disabilities to become more confident and receive more support from their communities, Tran said, it has fallen short in implementation.
A VNAH fact sheet calls on concerned ministries, agencies and authorities to do a better job of coordinating their efforts to implement the legislation.
Nguyen Thi Hoai Thu, the leader of the Vietnamese delegation and CSA chair, said she wanted to increase cooperation between the Vietnamese National Assembly and the U.S. Congress in developing legislation to assist Vietnam's disabled.
When the delegation returns to Vietnam, she said, CSA plans to collaborate with local NGOs and representatives from USAID and VNAH to improve implementation of Vietnam's National Ordinance on Disabled Persons.
According to Tran, VNAH is already working with CSA and other key institutions in the Vietnamese government in an effort to draft improved disability legislation.
At a September 27 reception for the delegation, Senator Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont and the ranking minority member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, applauded Vietnam's efforts to assist people with disabilities.
Nguyen Tam Chien, Vietnam's ambassador to the United States, praised the efforts of USAID and VNAH to improve conditions for Vietnam's disabled, saying the initiative was "evidence of the mutual friendship between the United States and Vietnam."
For additional information, see Disability Awareness in the United States or the VNAH Web site.
(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)