Rights for people with disabilities under different perspective in Vietnam
July 25,2017   By:chinahumanrights.org

Rights for people with disabilities under different perspective in Vietnam

Le Ngoc Diep

1. Introduction

I was born and grew up in Vietnam where I saw a society where there were plenty of people with disabilities. Even today, it is very easy for me to see a beggar on the street whom has no legs, or even arms. For example, I was approached by a child who came to me to ask for a few change because his legs were gone and he had to use his hands to “walk”. Another time, I visited an orphan in a temple in Saigon and saw there were hundreds of children whom had blindness, were unable to speak, had mental disabilities or had other physical disabilities. They all shared a small room, even though not enough equipment or even toys were there for them. Yes, some of them cannot walk or cannot speak like us, but their brain still understands what exactly is happening to them every day. In my memory there was a kid who cannot walk because he had polio, but every time I came to visit him, he looked at me and smiled. In less than five minutes I was able to teach him how to count to ten in English. When I left, he cried. He made me realize one thing: that even though their situation is very hard, they themselves are trying to improve.

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and its Optional Protocol (A/RES/61/106), on 13/12/2006, claims very clearly that the purpose of the Convention is to assist “Persons with disabilities include those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basic with others".1 For years when people talked about persons with disabilities, their first impression was compassion, even feeling self-deprecating too. Yet now, we should think it differently, and we should link persons with disabilities to human rights when we talk about them.

Compared to he views and laws in developed countries towards human rights, especially about the rights for people with disabilities, Vietnam is still a developing country facing a lot of difficult in building a better system to support them. However, we have been doing our best to help people with disabilities to adapt into communities, not just in material life, but also in mental life.

After years of support from a lot of organizations and other hard works, Vietnam made some notable progress. In 2010 Vietnam created its own Disabilities Laws and Persons with Disability Day was placed on the 18th of April, showing more of a legal support for people with disabilities. So far the situation is improving slowly, so why is there still difficultly for them in adapting into a community or improving their life? Is it because the country has not done enough or because some are taking advantage of our empathy?

To answer the above questions, I’ve started looking at it from different perspectives such as culture, government policy, reflection of the community, and psychology as well. I believe these factors are equally linked to support each other in a circle and can be used to improve the situations of persons with disabilities.

2. Culture perspective

Vietnam is a country with a rich culture. For generations, we have been taught that the most important thing of our cultural traits has to do with morals. That is, how we treat each other. From a child we have been taught that we all survive on the same earth, the same society, we should open our heart to accept and to help each other. That's what we call human sympathy.

One of my favorite phrase from Confucius is:”人不助我,是我无为;我不助人,是我无善” (meaning: Man doesn’t help me, there nothing I can do; I don’t help him, then I’ll be heartless.) There is a similar saying in Vietnamese, “lá lành ?ùm lá rách”, meaning: a better life man will help a poor man. It’s not only talking about helping in material life, but also in mental life by accepting our man, making him feel there is no different between us and that there is always care and love even we are not blood related. We all have the same home, our Earth, and we share the same social life.

Yet because of this view on life, there is also a big misunderstanding on how to help others. All of us are equal in human rights, we all have rights to live, and all have rights to be educated, and so on. We also have an obligation in helping each other to improve. People with disabilities deserve to receive help from their society, they deserve to be cared for, to be taught survival skills, and more than anything, they deserve to be respected. Because no one wants to be felt sorry for from others.

When we talk about people with disabilities in Vietnam, I think we should start from the smallest unit, the person, to a family unit and then to a societal one. A person with disabilities will be a successful man or be a useless person who is more or less affected by their parents. If a kid was born with no legs but their parents still had a good understanding about how to educate their kid, such as still sending them to school, supporting them to learn and to do things they would love to try, and giving them better health treatment, then the kid will have a better chance to adapt into the community. And if more and more people can receive this, the society will readily accept those people and there would be no company who would refuse to give them a job because of their lack of skills. If this society could help them by giving them better treatment, then more people could got to rehab for their physical functional and have a life like others. A person would be more confident to believe that they are special and that despite physical differences, they can still achieve in life. I believe to change some misunderstandings or the way we treat people with disabilities, we have to start to teach this view from home, school, and through the media. With this, society can see them as unique, that we are all equals, and because we care about them, so we must care about what rights they deserve to have.

3. Government Policy

Vietnam has a population of 78. 5 million people, 7. 8% of which (6.1 million from 5 year old) has difficultly with loss of vision or blindness, deaf, physical or memory disabilities. There were 385 thousand people who belonged to special disabilities, where 6.1 million (3.8%) from 5 years old have at least two disabilities. There are about 283.733 people with disabilities (4.7%) are children from 5- <18 years old. In addition, 3,314,700 of people (54.6%) are > 60 years old. And children and male with disabilities has more percentage than women in the same age. Gender wise, 58% of people with disabilities are women; 15% of them are belong to a poor level. From all of this data, we can see that Vietnam is a country that has a large number of people with disabilities, which requires our government to do a lot of hard work to find out a better and more suitable solution to improve the situation.

In June 2010, Vietnam assigned on the Disabilities Laws and this Laws has been valid from 01/01/2011, becoming a legal support for people with disabilities. For the first time, Vietnam has its own definition for people with disabilities: “Person with disabilities means a person who is impaired in one or more body parts or suffers functional decline manifested in the form of disability which causes difficulties to his/her work, daily life and study.”2  It has affected the way people look at them, from a charity model to one of human rights. Ms. Luu Thi Anh Loan published a short paper telling us as a person with disability, this Disability Law brings her hopes that the government will have a deep and wide presence in any policy for disability people. She also hoped that the enforcement of the policy will have more meaning than just a signed piece of paper.

Beside this, Vietnam also passed many laws for human rights. Such laws are the 1999 Penal Law, the 2000 Law on marriage and family, the 1989 Law on protection of people’s health, the 2004 Law on Protection, care and education of children, and the 2006 Law on Vocational Training. Last year, 18/01/2016, The National Committee for Persons with Disabilities in Vietnam was established by the Prime Minister and the Minister of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs as the Chairman of the Committee. Participants are Committee members with representatives of relevant ministries and representatives of the leadership of the Central Committee of the Vietnam Fatherland Front, Vietnam Association for persons with disabilities, Central Vietnam Women's Union, Vietnam Association for persons with disabilities and Orphans, and the Vietnam Blind Association and Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange. The National Committee for Persons with Disabilities in Vietnam is tasked to assist the Prime Minister in directing and coordinating among ministries, sectors, and localities in dealing with issues related to mechanisms and policies for implementation. The National Committee has conducted research, proposed directions, created a five year and annual plan, as well as tasks and solutions for the implementation of work for people with disabilities. From this, it is easy to tell that the Vietnam government is putting all of the related Unions together to find out a best way to help people with disabilities.

If we compare how Vietnam defines disabilities, we can see from the table below that the Disability Classification in Vietnam doesn’t separate the sensory disability into a small group like The World Health Assembly’s Disability Classification does. For me, it will be more or less affect to the way we provide special training to teachers and education managements, while persons with disabilities will receive a different treatment from the community.

According to Vietnam Laws on person with disabilities No.51/2010/QH10, there are 6 types of disabilities that are a bit different to the world.3


 "Article 4. Rights and obligations of persons with disabilities 1. Persons with disabilities are guaranteed the following rights: a/ To participate on an equal basis in social activities; b/ To live independently and integrate into the community; c/ To enjoy exemption from or reduction of certain contributions to social activities; d/ To be provided with healthcare, functional rehabilitation, education, vocational training, employment, legal assistance, access to public facilities, means of transport, information technology and cultural, sports, tourist and other services suitable to their forms and degrees of disability; e/ Other rights provided by law. 2. Persons with disabilities shall perform civic obligations under law." 4

Vietnam also is a country that puts education first, so no doubt that rights to education for people with disabilities, being one of the most needed rights, got attention from the government and community. From 1996-2016, with the help from the government, the number of children attending school increased from 42 thousand children to more than 500 thousand children. People have been accepting this as a right for children to go to school and receive inclusive education. Until now, there are more than 20 cities and provinces that has an education center for people with disabilities, where more than 107 special education centers are for teachers and students. According to the Ministry of Education and Training, currently there are 171,873 children attend kindergarten, 52,606 children attend primary school, 14,073 children are in middle school and 2,300 children are in high school (the system of education in Vietnam is: primary school for 7-11 years old, middle school for 12-15 years old and high school for 16-18 years old). In addition, a decision was made on 27/11/2009 No. 1956/Q?-TTg by The Prime Minister that from 2010-2015 there are about 120, 00 people with disabilities that has received training for work and have helped them to look for a job. A decision was made by Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs (MOLISA) No. 2839/L?TBH-BTXH on 29/07/2016 about training people with physical disabilities, mental and psychiatric disabilities for working skills. The committees on all levels have already implemented the plan and are cooperating with organizations for people with disabilities to train and create job opportunities.

The country is also lending money to people with disabilities for them to have a chance to do business. The amount of money is about $28 billion for more than 3,000 families to borrow money and create work opportunities for more than 4,000 people, training more than 147 blind people. After 3 months of training, people with disabilities received a job salary of about 100 - 150 US dollars per month.

About right to have health service, in 2016 the country with 896,644 people with special disability has received a Health Card by 28/2012/N?-CP and more than 150,000 people can buy health insurance with the support from the government. There were 349 people with disability who went to rehab for surgery, were provided a Health ID for 10,387 people, and free medication for 80,000 people.

The percentage of persons with disabilities in city and rural areas are very different, more than 75.5% of persons with disabilities live in the rural area. The north and middle of Vietnam have higher percentage of persons with disabilities compared to the South 9.7%, Southeast of Vietnam has the lowest percentage of persons with disabilities.

4. Reflect on Community

Vietnam Laws on person with disabilities No.51/2010/QH10
People with disabilities have the right to live in the community and this is the core of the CRPD. They have right to active participation in the community in which they live in.

During the last two years, Vietnam has been placing more funding in for helping and creating opportunities for people with disabilities to learn work skills and getting a job. Vietnam has more than 1,000 organizations who provide training skills for people with disabilities. From 2010-2015 there were about 120,000 people with disabilities who received training and got a job, or got help from the government by borrowing money for business. Yet a country with more than 7 million people with disabilities, the number of people who have received training and help are still very small (According to data of MOLISA). We can see that Vietnam has been working on this, and are still trying every day for them to have a better life.

Most people with disabilities live alone or with a small family. They has less chances to receive help from others. It is also not easy for them to find a marriage partner, which makes their life tougher. According to the Population and Housing Census of 2009, 11.8% of single people of marriageable age had a disability. We can see this clearly by the table below and how difficult it is for them to adapt into their community.

Descriptive statistics on total stigma and discrimination scores

In each sector of Persons with disabilities and Persons without disabilities 5






Vietnam is also a country with a literacy rate of up to 98%, but the percentage of people with disabilities who can read are completely the opposite. At 6 years old, 34% is illiterate, and 21% did not graduate primary school (MOLISA 2010).Vietnamese Law have also been supporting inclusive education, such as the government approving the 2004 Laws of Protection, Care and Education of Children, and the 2005 Law on Education and the Ordinance on Persons with Disabilities. A decision was made in 2007 by the Ministry of Education and Training that teachers and education managers have to improve their necessary skills for providing inclusive education for persons with disabilities. However, Vietnam still recognizes and operates under a separate and segregated educational system. The purpose is to help people with disabilities, but it is still inconsistent with the CRPD. One of the most important reasons for this result is people with disabilities have a difficult time adapting into their community. Most of them were born in a family with poor conditions, like 14.1% of them live under a solid house, or 46% of them have an indoor working toilet. Most of them have lower requirements for living standards.

The education system in Vietnam is still able to provide free education. Despite this, the families still have to pay a study fee, where only a certificate of disability can give them a discount fee. Another reason is most of them do not have a chance to receive health care, so the health care system is still quite poor in Vietnam and people have to pay a lot of money to receive the best health care, or pay less money to receive normal to even poor health care. Also, an education center might not have special access for them, such as a ramp if the child is in a wheel chairs, or a teacher did not get enough training for special education to deal with some special cases in class. There are still news broadcasts about a person with a disability who has overcome their difficulties and was able to go to school. The success of these students should not be used to feel sorry for them, but to realize that they are normal like us and have chances like everyone else.

In regards to charity, some people use the media to promote themselves while visiting or giving them presents. It would be better if they invested the money into rehab equipment or to have better health care service, or to help them fix the education system and training center for teachers, or to create opportunities for them to work and other practical and useful donations.

There are some methods to help disabled students integrate into the community. Such methods are like changing attitudes by using the strength of viral media, or focusing on education at school or Community based Rehabilitation (CBR): “A strategy for equitable development of people with disabilities through their own efforts, their families and communities, and locally available health and social services.”6  We can consider to have more forums as a bridge to connect us with persons with disabilities to exchange our knowledge, our views of life, and our skills of survival. Who know it could help them from feeling isolated too.

5.Spiritual and Psychology perspective

5.1 How the society accepts people with disabilities?

In Vietnam, if you walk on the street, or you get on a bus and a blind person is trying to cross the street or trying to get on the same bus with you, you might try to help them. You might feel good, you might be proud of yourself with a thought that you have helped a person with disabilities and you have done a good thing. We have been taught in school, at home, or through media that you should help people with disabilities because it is not easy for them to do daily things. But we forget one thing, just because it is not easy does not mean they cannot do it themselves. Have you ever done a questionnaire to ask them how they really feel when they receive that kind of help from others? We barely mention how they feel when we give them help, so it has to be asked: do they really want our help or do they want to do it on their own? There are no textbooks, or any tools to teach us how we should help them and to what degree. How is the one who is accepting help feeling? Society teaches us that you should help them because we are stronger than them, and we are brothers living on earth who are responsible in taking care of each other.

After years of having its own Laws on Persons with Disabilities, when Vietnamese people talk about disabilities, there are some changes. It is not only about doing moral things, it is more about we should be concerned about their feelings and their rights. It is good to show them that they still have us, we follow them, we are there to help them, but will a little gift like a cooked meal or a few packs of sweets really help them? I personally do not think so. In fact, I think it makes them feel like they are different from us and that they always need special care. In the end, it could make them rely on us more than on themselves.

One thing we have to emphasize on is that people with disabilities is not standing apart from our society. They do not need us who are lucky to be born with a perfect body and have enough abilities to do what we love to give them sympathy or to feel sorry for them. In this world, there is always someone stronger than us in some abilities, like they cannot see, but their listening could be much better than us. They might not have hands to hold a pen to write with, but they can train themselves to use their feet to write, and their handwriting could be more legible than ours. They have all of the required qualifications in this society, we are equal. The society is developing nonstop and it also requires people with disabilities have to improve their life skills so they can stand on their own feet and be proud of themselves. We should stop giving them a sympathy look, we should treat them like us, and we will be there for them only if they seek us for help. We should be their friends, walk with them, listen to their voice, their wishes, maybe that is what they need in order to be confident to join us in this life.
5.2 How people with disabilities feel while trying to adapt into social life?

A parent was so excited to have their first baby, and then they are sad and feeling guilty with a baby because their child was born with disabilities. Their child does not have two legs like other kids. They think he cannot run, cannot climb, will be very hard for them to make friends, and will not be able to get a normal job, or look for a life partner. Since then this family spoiled him, always help him to do all of the things and he did not even try to do it himself. He never tried to climb on the bridge in kindergarten because his parent told him to not do, that he cannot do it, that he will fall down. He never tried to work harder because his parents told him that no company will want him to work for them, or you will be single for a rest of your life because there is no girl who will love you, or want to take care of a person with disabilities. So the child grew up and gave up a lot of their rights that he should have been there from the beginning. A lot of opportunities have passed him because he thinks he is different from people, that people must always treat him with compassion. He would have had more life skills if the parents had raised him to depend more on himself and not by a sympathy of others.

It is very easy for people with disabilities to feel that they are not a part of society. They think they should have helps from other people, because they are trained to believe they are weak and they can’t create something great. The society should not train them to think like this. They have the rights to enjoy entertainment, equal opportunities in looking for jobs, and chances to study in suitable environment. There are also a lot of Olympic champions who have disabilities and a lot of successful business people born with disabilities. The reason they can make their life fill up with color, happiness and succeed is they do not feel they are different or special. They are confident and built up the skills that they are able to do. They adapted into society like us, they created great things and they stand on their own. That is what we and they should be felling.

6. Conclusion

Every one of us know one thing that our world today would be different if all of the greater people who born with disability didn’t get over all of the prejudice, or gave up rights to live, to educate, to invent all of the valuable for our material and mental life. There would be no amazing melody if Beethoven was not born deaf and did not play music. Or if Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison gave up their social rights, then there would be no great inventions for us today. I could not play the guitar if my teacher who walk cannot like us did not open his little guitar shop and teach me how to play. People like them did not let anything stop them from what they deserve to have. They always felt it was easy to talk about their disabilities without feeling bad to they accept the way they were born, and make their life happen the way they like.

The society should change their view of people with disabilities. No one wants to be born disable and no one wants to be felt sorry for how they are. It might be difficult to move around with no arms, no legs, or cannot hear, cannot speak, and it is very easy to make them feel lonely, very emotional and sensitive about how they are treated by people around them. They all want to have a better life, and they will not stop fighting for it. They want this society to guide and let them in, not to feel isolated. The culture and community have to treat them with equality by teaching us how we should treat people with disabilities through school or via media. We have to start from a very basic unit, like making the family understand that there is nothing wrong with their children. They could do better if the family played a role of a friend, tell them it is not bad to not have legs, because you still have hands, you still can make true friends, you still can do a lot of amazing things that even normal people cannot do. Parents should not be giving their children the thought that they cannot have rights or succeed in life because they are disable. We have to educate them because they are very important factors in our society and create the future of the culture.

For charity and health care models, the money should be used to effectively a system. With a lot of money from charity, you could work with government to build special access for disable, you can help to build up an analysis data system that gather information from all areas of life and find out what they need. You can open more training centers, give them a chance to access rehab for their physical disability or you can create job opportunities for them so they can
earn money themselves.

Like Eric Rosenthal and Mental Disability Rights International has said: “Vietnam should reserve current plans to expand residential institutions for children and expand the size of impatient psychiatric facilities”. Vietnam has been progressively supporting this idea, but still need to take a look at the process and where it needs improvement.

The government should do their best to create a chance for disable children to attend school for free. They should not separate them if they have enough ability to study with other people. The government also should give the trainers, teachers or anyone who takes care of them more professional training and benefit because what they do is a very difficult job. In addition, there should be more policies for disabled people and ensure that those policies are enforced. A building like apartment can be very beautiful but will be nothing if it does not have a way for them to access. In fact, it will be useless to them, just like a signed policy will be nothing without enforcement.

Like this, we should change the way people look at persons with disability and then adjust the current operation system. “Governments, persons with disabilities, and family members also should be actively involved in efforts to monitor existing programs and reform efforts”7 and the community should assist in helping persons with disabilities adjust within the community. This is what I have mentioned from the beginning and that culture, government policy, reflection of the community, and psychology are linked together.

1The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol (A/RES/61/106), on

2Vietnam Laws on Persons with Disabilities No.51/2010/QH10

3Vietnam Laws on person with disabilities No.51/2010/QH10

4Vietnam Laws on person with disabilities No.51/2010/QH10

5Chi phí kinh t? c?a s?ng chung v?i khuy?t t?t và k? th? ? Vi?t Nam (The economic cost of living with disabilities
and stigma in Vietnam), P. 63, by Australian AID.

6How to guide Inclusive Education for children with Disabilities by CRS/Vietnam P.7

7The rights of Children with Disabilities in Viet Nam Bringing Vietnam’s Laws into compliance with the UN Convention on the Rights of Person with Disabilities, December, 2009, P.11- Eric Rosenthal and Mental Disability Rights International.

From:The Third Session of China-Europe Seminar on Human Rights , July 2-3