UPSHIFT has brought new opportunities to Vietnamese youth, specifically those from marginalized communities, to learn skills that they might need to bring about their own social impact projects. To think that the participants are the only ones that have benefited from the program is not entirely true. Those of us at Viet Youth Entrepreneurs (VYE), as organizers of UPSHIFT, have a lot to learn from them as well. In our first profile we will bring you the story of Tuấn Nguyễn. His story is one of overcoming difficulties and giving back to his community. Though Tuan appears to be happy these days, it wasn’t always this way.

The Blind IT Teacher

During this year’s outreach and workshop, we had the chance to meet Tuấn. Tuấn is a member of a project that aims to build a job-seeking website for the blind. Tuấn is a calm and collected person with an incredible sense of humor. He receives everyone’s respect and love at Thiên Ân Shelter for the blind in his role as the IT teacher.

Tuấn’s journey to become a qualified IT teacher is full of adversity and tremendous effort. Tuấn graduated with good standing with a degree in IT from University of Pedagogy in Ho Chi Minh City. He attended normal classes and was given no special exceptions. We were inspired to know that with the right opportunity and access to resources there is no boundary for dreams and the ability to learn, even for those with disadvantages such as lost sight. As one of the few participants in UPSHIFT who is over the age of 24, Tuan’s role is that of a participant-mentor. His knowledge and experience helped his team make it into our workshop and be rewarded with a chance at incubation to make their dream project real.

From left to right: Bui Nguyen Nhat Minh (supporter), Nguyen Minh Hai, Dao Van Thom, La Thi Mai Thu, Nguyen Minh Tuan are in blue T-shirts (participants), and Nguyen Nha Quyen (mentor) UPSHIFT Workshop © UNICEF/Innovations Lab Ho Chi Minh/UPSHIFT Workshop/ Truong Viet Hung/ November 2015
From left to right: Bui Nguyen Nhat Minh (supporter), Nguyen Minh Hai, Dao Van Thom, La Thi Mai Thu, Nguyen Minh Tuan are in blue T-shirts (participants), and Nguyen Nha Quyen (mentor) UPSHIFT Workshop © UNICEF/Innovations Lab Ho Chi Minh/UPSHIFT Workshop/ Truong Viet Hung/ November 2015

From a personal perspective to the life experience of a blind person

Tuấn was not born blind. His family has a history of AMD (Age-Related Macular Degeneration), and he could not escape his fate with the condition. When he reached 19 years of age , his eyesight deteriorated significantly causing his loss of vision.

At the time, he was a sophomore at University of Agriculture and Forestry and had to quit school because he could not keep up with his schoolwork. As a result, he lost hope and became depressed.

Tuấn explains that it’s hard for blind people to find a suitable job, as the number of available jobs and support services for the blind are very limited. Many training centers simply turn down blind applicants because they had no prior experience working with blind people and don’t have the ability to deliver appropriate services.

For blind students who attend Vietnamese universities, taking examinations is also a challenge. Students are required to take English, IT and other certificates prior to graduation. Unfortunately, these examinations are not made to be accessible to blind students. These professional and educational difficulties are in addition to the daily complexities of navigating the incredibly hectic mega-city of Ho Chi Minh, which has limited accessibility options for those with disabilities. In many cases, young people that are blind have to rely disproportionately on their families, and are often disrespected by others and receive many pitiful comments.

Nguyen Minh Tuan was presenting at the UPSHIFT workshop UPSHIFT Workshop © UNICEF/Innovations Lab Ho Chi Minh/UPSHIFT Workshop/ Truong Viet Hung/ November 2015
Nguyen Minh Tuan was presenting at the UPSHIFT workshop UPSHIFT Workshop © UNICEF/Innovations Lab Ho Chi Minh/UPSHIFT Workshop/ Truong Viet Hung/ November 2015

How did Tuấn overcome his difficulties?

When Tuấn joined Thiên Ân Shelter he started making many friends and had the opportunity to learn about many assistive tools for blind people. Tuấn ultimately regained his motivation to continue studying.

This time, Tuấn enrolled at the University of Pedagogy, Tuấn recorded all of his classes and listen to later, search for more materials on the web to supplement his knowledge, and ask his friends to clarify things. On his second year at University, Tuấn took the chance to apply for an internship at a software development company.

With his expertise in IT for the blind, we asked Tuan to educate the UPSHIFT team on blind people’s ability to use technology, especially for communication and education. Tuấn explained enthusiastically that using screen reader software, which attempts to identify, interpret and read what is on the screen, helps blind people use laptops and mobile devices quite extensively.This software also provides shortcuts to help users speed up their movements on devices. For Tuấn and many of his friends, email, most websites, Facebook, online news, and searching for information are all easily accessible.

Nguyen Minh Tuan was presenting at the UPSHIFT workshop UPSHIFT Workshop © UNICEF/Innovations Lab Ho Chi Minh/UPSHIFT Workshop/ Truong Viet Hung/ November 2015
Nguyen Minh Tuan was presenting at the UPSHIFT workshop UPSHIFT Workshop © UNICEF/Innovations Lab Ho Chi Minh/UPSHIFT Workshop/ Truong Viet Hung/ November 2015

How was the idea of a job-seeking website for the blind born?

Since he has lost his sight and experiencing the difficulties of the blind first hand, Tuấn has always wanted to do something about it. He hopes to create equal opportunities for blind people. He feels that blind people are only known for doing odd jobs in Vietnam, such as masseur, selling lottery tickets, or making handicrafts. Many blind people are forced to become beggars simply to get by, but Tuan and his team have a vision to change this.

Job options for blind people in Vietnam are improving, there are opportunities to be teachers, translators or audio/video transcribers, traditional medicine practitioners, software developers or even get advanced degrees. However, even with emerging opportunities and blind people with the appropriate abilities to undertake these jobs, the chances of a blind person getting hired are still slim because not many employers have the capacity, experience, or opportunity to connect with, and adapt to a potential employee that is blind. Employers are generally not aware of what kinds of jobs blind people can do, and even if they are and express an interest in hiring them, there are not many services that could support them.

Tuấn and his team aim to build a website connecting blind people seeking employment and employers. This website is more than a simple job board though, it aims to help bridge the gap between blind people, their abilities and the employers by providing services such as an online forum and mentoring. Through the online service, Tuan hopes that more and more blind people will be able to find a suitable job to support themselves.

You can get updates on Tuan and his team at upshift.vye.vn

Written by Thu Tran & Minh Bui from VYE
Edited by Brian Cotter UNICEF Innovation Lab: Vietnam

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