“With technology, people with disabilities can achieve more. They can overcome a lot of barriers. It enables them to access information, to be productive and contribute to the economy, and to benefit from the growth of Vietnam.” — Cheng Zhao, Vietnam
This week, as we celebrate the educators and innovators who are making learning more accessible, it is clear that “access” can mean very different things, depending on your circumstances. While in one country, access to the right tools – like computers or the Internet – is the issue, in other countries, making education available to students with learning challenges is crucial. But one thing is clear, whether they are hearing or vision impaired, or struggling with any number of learning or physical disabilities, all students deserve an education. And today, as at no other time in history, technology is enabling these students to enjoy the same benefits of education as any of their peers.
Take Vietnam, where people living with disabilities are one of the most disadvantaged groups. In addition to facing severe stigma, they experience enormous challenges accessing vocational training and employment opportunities. But Cheng Zhao and his colleagues at Catholic Relief Services in Vietnam – a Microsoft NGO partner – are determined to change this. “We work to promote the increased inclusion of people with disabilities into education, into economic activities and into the society in general,” says Zhao.
Traditionally in Vietnam, those with disabilities were trained for manual labor jobs. “It reinforces the stigma,” says Zhao, “and focuses on the ‘disability’ part, and not the ‘ability’ part.” Zhao’s program specifically targets youth with disabilities, and trains them in advanced IT skills, such as programming, web development, graphic design, network administration, and 3-D modeling as opposed to basic IT skills like data entry or basic office software. The program seeks to increase graduates’ options for employment, and their future earning potential. It also helps to reverse social stigma about the capacities of people with disabilities.
“In a fast-growing economy like Vietnam’s, someone with IT skills can find jobs, and these are seen as prestigious jobs,” says Zhoa. “It contributes to the (positive) perception of people with disabilities.” And technology jobs are a great match for people with disabilities. Computers, coupled with assistive technologies (such as text-to-speech for blind users), enable people with disabilities to communicate with others and be productive. “It’s because of technology that our students are able to study in universities, taking courses that they wouldn’t have been able to before,” say Zhao.
I hope you enjoy my interview with Cheng Zhao on today’s Daily Edventure.
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