HANOI -- It is an honor for me to join people who are so dedicated to making Vietnam a more inclusive society for people with disabilities. The theme of this year’s International Day could not be more important. “Removing barriers” and being more inclusive – those are goals that resonate in every country, including my own. But they mean nothing without leadership in government and in society.
I would like to single out a few actors for their leadership. They include Vietnam Assistance for the Handicapped, or VNAH, which is supporting the Job Fair today through a group of visionary companies known as the Blue Ribbon Employer Council, or BREC. More than 160 international and Vietnamese employers constitute BREC, which was established in part with USAID assistance through a partnership between VNAH and the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry. BREC’s achievements include the employment of more than 1,600 Vietnamese with disabilities. When I met with BREC representatives recently in Danang I was inspired by their vision to expand their network and benefit more people. I look forward to continued and deepening collaboration with such leaders.
The U.S. Government has already provided over $54 million in assistance to people with disabilities, regardless of cause, since 1989, much of it through the U.S. Agency for International Development. In partnership with organizations such as VNAH, Save the Children and others, and in collaboration with the Government of Vietnam, we have been party to a new National Law on Disability and accessibility codes and standards for public transportation and public construction. We have helped improve access to information and communication, and support the establishment of the Vietnam Federation on Disability, the organizer of this event.
Vietnam is closer to the removal of barriers and fuller inclusion for persons with disabilities. But despite the solid legal framework for disability issues, there must be stronger and specific implementation measures and procedures, and accountability through monitoring and enforcement of the laws. We can also help in that area.
However, the greatest barrier to full inclusion is the attitudinal barrier. The stereotypes and the misperceptions about the capacities and potential of people with disabilities continue to keep the door to inclusion closed and thereby exclude them from being part of society and a contributor. Only comprehensive, consistent leadership by Vietnamese will bring down that barrier.
One way to change perceptions is to follow BREC’s lead. By creating real employment opportunities for qualified persons with disabilities through today’s job fair and being public about doing so, we will have accomplished something significant.
Thank you and I wish Vietnam the success deserved by the valiant, dedicated people here today.
See photos of the ceremony in Hanoi.
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Last updated: January 21, 2015