Did you know that over 1.3 billion people worldwide, constituting roughly 16 percent of the global population, navigate their daily lives overcoming the hurdles of various disabilities? 
While these challenges often go unnoticed, we find ourselves at a juncture where progress has been made, yet disparities in access to services, civic life and more remain, especially for women.
Accessibility is a concept that encompasses not just ramps and widened doorways, but the fundamental right for every person, regardless of their abilities, to navigate the world with dignity, to be heard, and to fully participate in society. At the heart of this transformative movement, there are extraordinary female leaders, whose stories of resilience and impact stand as beacons in the ongoing quest for a more accessible and inclusive world.
The UN Partnership on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNPRPD) project in Viet Nam, a collaborative effort since January 2022, has been supporting these visionary women. By bringing together government officials, civil society, persons with disabilities, and various organizations, this initiative has been driving the force behind advancing disability inclusion in the country.
On the occasion of the International Day for People with Disabilities and Human Rights Day,we are honored to share the inspiring stories of these leaders and the initiatives they champion.
Empowering Deaf Communities: Nguyen Tran Thuy Tien’s vision
Meet Nguyen Tran Thuy Tien, the Chairwoman of the Pard Center for the Deaf in Viet Nam, a driving force behind positive change for the deaf community. Founder of the Pyscho-Education and Applied Research Center for the Deaf (PARD), Ms Tien is dedicated to empowering deaf people through independence and advocacy.
In her role, Ms Tien oversees a network of 35 deaf clubs, addressing the challenges faced by the deaf community due to barriers to education, employment, and social participation. Her collaboration with UNDP and UNPRPD has proven instrumental in facilitating deaf and hard-of-hearing people’s access to civic spaces.
“One of the critical issues is the severe shortage of sign language interpreters, with fewer than 20 professionals serving the entire country. To compound this, only around 50 deaf individuals have attained a Bachelor's degree, and merely one has achieved a Master's degree, highlighting the substantial barriers to bilingual education for the deaf,” Ms. Tien said.
In response, she introduced an initiative to use trained deaf sign language interpreters together with their hearing counterparts. This approach not only address the shortage but also brings valuable lived experiences of deaf people into interpreting work, ensuring equitable access and enhanced accuracy across various settings.
UNDP piloted the use of deaf interpreters alongside hearing interpreters at UNDP events. The initiative gain widespread attention, with social media post about the initiative becoming one of the most shared clips on the UN’s Facebook page, highlighting the importance of disability access. In just a year and a half, thanks to Ms. Tien’s leadership, deaf sign language interpreters have become a popular presence at international and national events in Viet Nam.
Resilience through dance, Ms. Duong Thanh Hiền’s inspiring journey
Once an elementary school teacher with a passion to bring join to her students, Ms. Hiền’s life took an unexpected turn after a devastating accident left her shaken and isolated. Months of seclusion gave way to a transformative discovery - sports dance for the visually impaired.
Training offered by UNDP and its partners enabled Ms. Hiền to recognize and effectively respond to gender-based violence. As a coach at SOLAR Sports Club, a key partner in the UNPRPD project, Ms. Hiền found renewed purpose in supporting women with disabilities.
At the 2023 Sports Dance Club Cup, jointly organized by UNDP, the Viet Nam Blind Association, the Viet Nam Paralympics Association, and the Viet Nam Dance Sports Federation, with the support from the UNPRPD Fund, Ms Hien not only danced in the competition but also coached, witnessing the profound transformation in her students.
Ms. Hiền shared, “July 23rd holds immense significance for me. With the support of donors and UNDP, the organization of the ‘2023 Sports Dance Club Cup for the Visually Impaired’ stands as a momentous milestone in my life. It allows me to witness the tangible, positive transformations within my coaching group over the past several months. This event goes beyond the mere acquisition of medals, it encapsulates the profound, life-altering changes experienced by each individual. Similar to my personal journey, my students have cultivated strength and confidence, boldly gracing the stage to pursue their dreams.”
Because dance is visual and expressive by nature, the events’ planners worked hard to ensure the performances were accessible to everyone through voice narration. Voice-narrated clips provided athletes with the opportunity to review their performances, receive feedback and share their accomplishments with the community.
For Ms. Hiền, the accommodations changed the way the dance competition was accessed and experienced, Ms. Hiền noted, “This groundbreaking enhancement ensures that visually impaired audiences can now fully immerse themselves in the world of dance in an entirely novel manner, transcending the limitations of mere spectacle to offer a comprehensible and deeply meaningful experience. I extend my profound gratitude to UNDP for its invaluable support of our club’s pioneering initiative”.