Deaf and hearing people do not experience disasters the same ways. Many people will remember Tropical Storm Linfa that ravaged the central coast of Việt Nam in October 2020. The government sent out alerts on the news, by radio, and through text messages. This allowed people in general society to make decisions about how to protect themselves and their families. Some people in central Việt Nam evacuated, while many stayed in their homes, barricading them with wood planks and sandbags. However, deaf people in central Việt Nam did not receive information about the storm, write Nguyễn Trần Thủy Tiên, Audrey C. Cooper, and Leyla Craig
Global indexes place Việt Nam as the 6th highest country in exposure and vulnerability to extreme weather events. In a disaster situation, emergency alerts, information, and training save lives. Preparation for such disasters is underpinned in national legislation through the 2013 Law on Natural Disaster Prevention and Control (trans. Luật phòng chống thiên tai – 33/2013/QH13), which also explicitly recognizes “people with disabilities” (trans. “người khuyết tật”; Chapter 1, Article 3) and provides for disaster preparation and response, including training and education. Revisions introduced in 2020 address a number of mechanisms for operationalising disaster and emergency prevention and control, including promoting the development of human resources in the form of on-site organisations, self-defence forces, the People’s Army, and voluntary organisations and individuals (60/2020/QH14, Article 6).
But there remains a large gap between legislation and implementation when it comes to one of Việt Nam’s largest populations: the deaf community. According to the 2016 National Survey on People with Disabilities, the deaf population in Việt Nam comprises approximately 1.3 million people. Yet when disaster strikes, they have little to no access to emergency alerts, information, or training curricula designed to engage deaf community members. This indicates that deaf and hearing people experience disasters in different, and often unequal, ways. Research on deaf communities and disaster resources around the world finds that deaf communities commonly face a lack of access to disaster and emergency information, communication, and training: Engelman et al (2013) and Calgaro et al (2021).
The concept of Disability inclusive Disaster Risk Reduction (DiDRR) was designed to address this tendency, which occurs worldwide, to leave behind people with disabilities in disasters. The DiDRR Network was initiated by an international NGO based in Indonesia and led to recognition by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR). DiDRR aims to increase the resilience of people with disabilities by removing social barriers that make them vulnerable to hazards and disaster risks. A key tenet of DiDRR is the participation of people with disabilities in all DRR planning and management. In 2015, the United Nations adopted the Sendai Framework for DRR 2015-2030, which includes policies and provisions for implementing disability inclusion within all DRR planning. Việt Nam was one of 187 countries that agreed to endorse the Sendai Framework, which led to three significant outcomes for people with disabilities and Disabled People’s Organisations:
- recommendation that DiDRR be included in Viet Nam’s UNCRPD action plan draft submitted to the Prime Minister;
- endorsement supporting the inclusion of disabled people in Community Based Disaster Risk Management (DiCBRM) by the Vietnamese Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs and Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD), and
- establishment of a national DiCBRM technical working group to oversee the implementation of DiCBRM in 6,000 disaster-prone communes across the country through the National Program of “Awareness Raising and Community based Disaster Risk Management”.
While these achievements are progressive, there is still much work that is needed to ensure that no disability groups are excluded from these processes. The deaf community has faced challenges to participation in DiDRR and DiCBRM. Yet they continue to find ways to remain resilient during times of crisis, as Ms. Loan’s experience of Tropical Storm Linfa, below, demonstrates. In sharing Ms. Loan’s story, which we do with permission, we hope to foster understanding of social barriers limiting deaf people’s disaster action, and more opportunities for deaf people in DiDRR and DiCBRM to ensure that no one is left behind.
Experiencing disaster as a deaf person: Tropical Storm Linfa (October 2020)
Deaf and hearing people do not experience disasters the same ways. Many people will remember Tropical Storm Linfa that ravaged the central coast of Việt Nam in October 2020. The government sent out alerts on the news, by radio, and through text messages. This allowed people in general society to make decisions about how to protect themselves and their families. Some people in central Việt Nam evacuated, while many stayed in their homes, barricading them with wood planks and sandbags. However, deaf people in central Việt Nam did not receive information about the storm.
Sound-based alerts are not accessible to many deaf people around the world (Engelman (2012); Takayama (2017); Tannenbaum-Baruchi et al (2014)), and real-time disaster information produced in signed languages is also rare worldwide. In Việt Nam Article 43 of Việt Nam’s 2010 Law on Persons with Disabilities mandates that “Vietnamese television stations are responsible for broadcasting programs with Vietnamese subtitles and sign language (original: “Đài truyền hình Việt Nam có trách nhiệm thực hiện chương trình phát sóng có phụ đề tiếng Việt và ngôn ngữ kí hiệu”) (Ministry of Justice 2019). However, television studios have not complied with the law: they do not provide subtitles (or “closed captioning”) and there are only two 30-minute news broadcasts each day that have sign language interpreters ((Deaf-led Organizations and Disaster Communication in Việt Nam). Moreover, the news broadcasts often use specialised terms that are not familiar to the community. The impact of this situation is that, by the time information about Tropical Storm Linfa was reported on the news–as well as other impending extreme weather events and disasters–it was too late for many deaf families to take shelter. Also, many deaf families are poor and do not have internet service, so they are not able to watch the interpreters on television.
If they were lucky, like Ms. Võ Thị Loan living in Lệ Thủy district, Quảng Bình, a neighbour would come to their home and urge them to evacuate. Without this neighbour, Ms. Loan and her family could have died in the flooding.
After the flooding, the Quảng Bình People’s Committee used loudspeakers to announce that food and supplies were available. No one told Ms. Loan, so she missed the opportunity to receive assistance. Deaf people affected by Tropical Storm Linfa also did not receive information about donation campaigns that were later organised and announced in the usual manner via loudspeaker and televised broadcasts to provide cash assistance to elders, poor people, and people with disabilities. As Ms. Loan’s story suggests, deaf people in Việt Nam are left behind both leading up to and following a disaster, and do not have the same resources as other society members.
Deaf Cultural and Linguistic Resources for Inclusion in Disaster Risk Reduction
Deaf people are a cultural and linguistic minority; therefore, for deaf people to be included in Việt Nam’s Disaster Risk Reduction activities, they need to be engaged in producing disaster information in Vietnamese sign languages. As citizens with equal rights as other people, and as knowledgeable representatives of their own language and disability experiences, deaf people need training in Disaster Risk Reduction. They are also the best people to train other deaf community members, as they are the most fluent users of their own languages and have the cultural knowledge to communicate key ideas to their community, as demonstrated in recent international events spotlighting Deaf leadership in disaster spaces–such as the international webinar Deaf-Led Disaster Action, a collaborative initiative between Gallaudet University, the Global Alliance for Disaster Resource Acceleration (GADRA), and Deaf organisation leaders in Japan, Trinidad & Tobago, and Việt Nam. Unfortunately, at the present time, disaster information and training for deaf communities in Việt Nam is not widely available. Research conducted in 2019 on Deaf-led Organizations and Disaster Communication in Việt Nam generated data from six provinces in north, central and southern Việt Nam and showed that most deaf people do not receive disaster information from the broadcast media or government sources (Cooper, et al. 2021); rather, they receive vital information from voluntarism from deaf association leaders who create messages in the local sign language and circulate via Facebook posts and group messaging.
Deaf Community Organisations & Disaster Leadership in Việt Nam
Deaf community organisations are an important source of community leadership and have been extremely active throughout the country for more than two decades. The first two organisations–the Hà Nội Association of the Deaf and the Hồ Chí Minh City Deaf Cultural Club–were both established in the 2000s (2000 and 2008, respectively). There are now more than 30 provincial deaf clubs or associations, as well as deaf-led organisations focused on such activities as sign language instruction, deaf education and empowerment, and sign language interpreter training.
One example of DiDRR disaster information campaigns led by deaf organisations is action by the Psycho-Education and Applied Research Centre for the Deaf (PARD), founded by Ms. Nguyễn Trần Thủy Tiên in December 2019 to advance deaf education, research, and deaf community empowerment. When the coronavirus pandemic impacted Việt Nam in 2020, the deaf community asked PARD to produce public health information so that deaf community members could protect themselves. PARD expanded their mission to include COVID-19 and have expanded further to include information on disasters and other public health issues. As a deaf person herself, Ms. Tiên knows the value of clear and comprehensive access to information so that she can make informed decisions. Ms. Tiên also encourages government leaders and organisations to support the hiring of deaf people to produce public health information, training and other services in Vietnamese sign language.
Deaf organisations are a vital source of information and support for deaf community members throughout the country; however, most do not have the opportunity to participate in DRR training or other resources. With additional information resources and financial support, deaf organisations could expand their outreach to deaf community members, protecting lives and training them to prepare for disasters.
Ms. Tiên believes that, if Ms. Loan and other deaf community members in Quảng Bình were included in disaster activities during Tropical Storm Linfa, then they could have organised evacuations, distributed supplies to community members, and protected themselves and others. This is the goal of Disability inclusive DRR. With Việt Nam’s investment in deaf community information and training resources, Việt Nam’s deaf communities are ready to serve the country in the event of a disaster.
Representing the wishes of deaf community leaders and members as a collective, Ms. Tiên urges “the government to convene a meeting with deaf people’s organisations from throughout the country to develop an action plan for promoting deaf people’s participation in DRR networks and training, including developing a methodology that is suitable for and builds on deaf people’s knowledge and skills.” The government has a precedent for convening disaster-related planning meetings with disability-led organisations. For example, in January 2022 the government convened a project meeting held in Ninh Bình province on “Promoting Inclusive Development of People with Disabilities to Adapt to Natural Disasters and Climate Change in Nho Quan District, Ninh Bình Province”; however, deaf-led organisations were not invited to that meeting, nor any other meetings on disability inclusive disaster planning. Ms. Tiên therefore calls on the government and disabled people’s organisations to “include deaf people in decision-making about disaster planning and every issue that impacts deaf communities.” In the spirit of the well-known disability motto “Nothing about us without us,” (“Không thể nói về chúng tôi mà không có chúng tôi”), Ms. Tiên advocates that the best approach to addressing the education, health, and welfare of deaf communities is “Nothing about Deaf people without Deaf people.”
*Banner photo by and copyright of Phạm Thị Minh Trang.
* A Vietnamese translate of this blog post by Đoàn Phương Anh is published here:
* For more information about the Psycho-Education & Applied Research Centre for the Deaf (PARD): PARD. 2021. Viet Nam: PARD Viet Nam. Available: https://pardvietnam.com/en/home-1/ [Accessed 2022].
*This article was made possible through the generous support of Sydney Southeast Asia Centre (SSEAC) from the University of Sydney.
*The views expressed in the blog are those of the authors alone. They do not reflect the position of the Saw Swee Hock Southeast Asia Centre, nor that of the London School of Economics and Political Science.