“Today it’s just me and Yến. Tomorrow there will be more and I believe that in the future, every student with a disability will feel supported and confident,” Trần Việt Hoàng, one of two recipients of the Wheel Cards Scholarship, expressed at the Award Ceremony on March 1st 2022. It reflects the vision of the scholarship to not only enable students with disabilities to pursue their dream and contribute to their communities, but it also ignites social conversations about inclusion and diversity and sets a precedent to other Vietnamese and regional universities to dedicate more resources for students with disabilities.
Being the first award at Fulbright University Vietnam for students with physical disabilities or mental health issues, the Wheel Cards Scholarship is established through the generosity and commitment of Wheel Cards – a world’s first wheelchair/ disabilities-related NFT project. “An inclusive world-class education is a resource-intensive process, requiring the top faculty, great programming, accessible resources, and students collaborating, learning from one another, and actively finding ways to lift each other up, bridge the opportunity gap and empower the underprivileged. Thanks to like-minded donors and partners, Fulbright can do that,” Ms. Nora Taylor, Fulbright University Vietnam’s Interim Provost, delivered her opening remarks to welcome Mr. Kunho Kim – founder of Wheel Cards, the guest speakers and scholarship recipients Tran Viet Hoang (Roh Wheel Cards Fellow) and Dong Thi Hai Yen (Mainstreet Park Wheel Cards Fellow).
A bottom-up approach that creates lasting impacts
Deeply caring about the life of marginalized communities, Kunho Kim traced his giving activities back to 10 years ago. As a high schooler, he started a nonprofit to donate wheelchairs to patients in Vietnam. Continuing his contribution with a more sustainable solution in helping the underprivileged, he chose to give a scholarship at Fulbright University Vietnam.
“Creating an equitable world is a bottom-up approach. We need to create a system where it can foster more impacts by itself. Students who received the scholarships will succeed both in and out of Fulbright University and without a doubt, be excellent scholars throughout their lives. I am 100% positive that these scholars throughout their lives will create lasting impacts on so many other people around them. Doing a one-off charitable event would not create such a lasting impact. I am confident that this scholarship fund will have a positive spiral effect.”
Besides tuition support, Wheel Cards Scholarship also gives scholars generous annual opportunity funds to pursue independent research, projects, studies, or self-development opportunities of students’ choice.
“My biggest goal is to help visually-impaired people access the professional working environment,” Đồng Thị Hải Yến stated. In the pursuit of her life-time goal, a foreseeable plan is to expand her home spa business in District 10 to establish a sustainable career development for the visually-impaired people, and also to self-finance her future project, together with the opportunity fund from Wheel Cards. The project’s idea emerged from the unemployment situation of her visually-impaired friends who are her former classmates in Psychology at a public university. She wishes to initiate a platform to support psychology graduates like her to join the workforce as professional online counselors.
For Trần Việt Hoàng, the opportunity fund allows him to approach technological tools such as the Math player, Audio graphing calculator, Orion TI-30XS calculator in studying Economics and Computer Science. The proficiencies in using different kinds of tools will enable him to further develop the programming courses exclusively for visually-impaired learners. “I also plan to study a master program in a developed country, and discover the career development of visually-impaired communities there, in order to contribute to my community when I’m back in Vietnam. I want to understand deeply then break the limitations of visually-impaired people.”
Inclusive conversations started from education
“I believe that education is one of the most important aspects of propelling people to start any kind of conversation. So I’m very happy to talk about disability issues and also support students with disabilities, and hope that Hoang and Yen can start many conversations in Vietnam, encouraging other people to talk more about inclusion and diversity, as well as people with disabilities,” affirmed Mr. Kunho Kim.
The importance of conversation initiation in schools was also emphasized in the advocacy story of Ms. Jordan Berger – Skadden Fellow at National Center for Law and Economic Justice; JD, New York University School of Law, the special guest speaker at the Ceremony. The barriers to access to education became pronounced when she started law school. Through social media, she formed a coalition to connect with disabled law students across the United States. The student-led coalition soon became a formal not-for-profit as National Disabled Law Students Association and has been in regular communication and partnership with various stakeholders across the legal profession.“I hope this scholarship is just the start of your university thinking critically about the importance of fully including students with disabilities. It is not enough for us to be admitted or even given scholarships, accessing inclusion must be a core commitment of every member of the administration and faculty.”
An equitable society creates favorable conditions for people with disabilities to achieve full capabilities to enter a normal life in every daily aspect. “They want to live like people without disabilities, to be mobile and able to deal with their day-to-day life without outside assistance,” Mr. Marko Walde, Chief Representative of German Industry and Commerce Vietnam, the ceremony’s distinguished guest speaker, asserted. The progression of disability mainstreaming starts from promoting the full inclusion and active participation of people with disabilities in educational and early-work environments.
“We welcome students with disabilities, especially from Fulbright, to take internships in our German companies located in Vietnam or elsewhere in the world to experience the professional environment, and vice versa, the companies can learn how to include disabled people in their daily businesses,” he promised.
As Ms. Nora Taylor concluded, the scholarship is just a beginning of our join-hand effort in giving equal access to all students in education and reaching an equitable and inclusive society, especially for people with disabilities.