When Hieu Luu leaves her home in Hanoi, an almost insurmountable mountain of problems awaits her. The sidewalks of Vietnam's capital are littered with potholes and food stalls. Countless motor scooters and cars rattled along the chronically congested streets. Getting around in the metropolis is a challenge even for people without a handicap.
But Hieu Luu suffers from cerebral palsy and is confined to a wheelchair. Many citizens with disabilities prefer to stay at home because of all the obstacles. Not so the 32-year-old. She openly draws attention to the grievances. With success: Hieu Luu's Tiktok videos are clicked millions of times.
She is simply ignored by bus drivers
Whether crossing a street or the often impossible access to public transport, authorities and ATMs: Under the name "@crazy_freewheeler", the Vietnamese shows fearlessly what people with disabilities have to struggle with every day in the metropolis. "Most of my videos are about accessibility," she says. But she also films how she is simply ignored by bus drivers at the bus stop. "So far I've made 20 clips, mainly in Vietnam but also in Japan." Two went viral on Tiktok and got hundreds of thousands of likes.
In the midst of the corona pandemic, Hieu spent a good year in Japan - as part of the Duskin Leadership Program, which trains people with disabilities from the Asia-Pacific region to become specialists in the land of the rising sun. The impressive level of accessibility that she encountered there opened her eyes to the fact that things can be different than in Hanoi. In Japan, she could even ski in a wheelchair. In her clips, she contrasts her positive experiences with the conditions in Vietnam.
There is hardly any information about the means of transport
"When I came back to Vietnam, I couldn't find any information about accessibility at all," she says. The buses are a huge problem. "It doesn't show which ones have a fold out ramp and which ones don't. I had to learn which buses I can use myself." She also spontaneously contacted bus companies and showed them her videos.
"Most of the people who ride the bus in Hanoi belong to minorities," says Hieu. "Old people, children, people who can't ride motorcycles and people like me. Why is important information not shared with these target groups?"
VinBus is one of only two operating companies in the city whose buses have access ramps. And those in charge responded and replied to the Tiktokerin's request. The company promised to share more information about accessibility in the future and to include people with disabilities in the marketing videos.
According to a 2019 report by the children's charity Unicef, 6.2 million people with disabilities live in Vietnam, about seven percent of the population. The government of the communist country passed a law on their equality in 2010. This was to ensure that they could participate in all aspects of society. But the law is rarely enforced - and doesn't even address the issue of discrimination.
Many wheelchair users stay at home
Hieu runs a support group for about 50 people with cerebral palsy. She encourages members to go out more too - despite all the obstacles. Because of the widespread discrimination and the inaccessibility of important public services, many wheelchair users stay at home most of the time out of fear, or - and this is also a consequence of the conditions - they are hardly allowed out of the house by their families.
One of the participants in the group is Dinh Quoc Tuan. For long distances he needs a special transporter, of which there is only one in the whole country. Despite this, he has lived independently of his family for twelve years.
Tuan has also campaigned for service providers such as banks and public transport to change their attitude towards minority groups. "Most of Hanoi is not accessible for people with disabilities. It's very difficult to get around," he says. And there is no support from the government for personal assistants, for example.
Instead, he gets one million Vietnamese Dong (38 euros) every month as help. "But that's not enough. What would make my life easier would be accessible transport and a stable income," he says. In his fight for more justice and less discrimination in Vietnamese society, he is just as determined as Hieu Luu.
Because little is moving. But maybe millions of Tiktok clicks can actually raise awareness of the topic. "We've had a Disability Equality Act for twelve years, and yet no one seems to know what accessibility means," says Hieu. It is not easy to dare to venture into life in Hanoi as a wheelchair user. But that is ultimately the goal of the clips: to show that nobody has to hide - and to give others courage.
TikTok video on buses TikTok video on buses TikTok video on crossing roads in Vietnam and Japan Unicef report on disabled people in Vietnam