An Introduction to The Nippon Foundation’s Disability Support Projects

Worldwide Support for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Individuals

Support for deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals began in 1992 and 1993 with the creation of an endowed scholarship fund for deaf and hard-of-hearing students from developing countries at Gallaudet University and the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID) in the United States. This fund was established in the interests of cultivating young deaf and hard-of-hearing leaders from developing countries, and now serves to support deaf and hard-of-hearing international students on a yearly basis. The Nippon Foundation places a high priority on improving the environment for education, particularly postsecondary education, in Asian countries. This is achieved through projects such as the one conducted with PEN International, in which networks for individuals who are deaf and hard-of-hearing are created between universities in several countries, so that they can receive improved tertiary education. In addition, a program is underway in Vietnam to provide opportunities for secondary and tertiary education for deaf and hard-of-hearing students through the medium of sign language.

Deaf individuals often face difficulties in obtaining auditory information while growing up, and many of them have underdeveloped writing and reading skills due to lack of proper education at an early age. These disadvantages segregate them from otherwise available information, and hinder their participation in society in the long run. Although it is now known that sign language is the primary language for deaf individuals, sign language was prohibited (and often still is) in many schools for the deaf for a long period of time due to the declaration at the Milan conference in 1880, which adopted the “oral method,” a means for deaf individuals to communicate with those who are hearing using their voices. Since then, it was put forward on the grounds that this type of communication is more important than sign-language communication. However, the Nippon Foundation takes a different viewpoint, believing that securing manual education using sign language and information and communication accessibility through sign language interpreters is a top priority. Hence, the Nippon Foundation provides support for development of sign language and provision of manual education in many countries. Examples of our support include creation of a sign language dictionary through research work carried out by deaf individuals, and projects to support secondary and postsecondary education through the medium of Vietnamese sign language. Plans are also underway to establish a sign language research center at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), a center which will become a focal point where deaf individuals from around the globe will have the opportunity to study sign language linguistics.

Through PEN International’s project to create networks between universities for students who are deaf and hard-of-hearing, the creation of a six-language sign language dictionary, and other relevant projects, the Nippon Foundation supports creation of a system that allows cooperation and reciprocal learning through expansion of international networks.

The projects that we have supported in the area of support for the deaf and hard-of-hearing are:

  • Provision of higher-level education to deaf individuals in Vietnam I (Dong Nai Provincial Teacher Training College)
  • Provision of higher-level education to deaf individuals in Vietnam II (National College for Education)
  • Asia-Pacific sign linguistics research and training program (The Chinese University of Hong Kong)
  • Postsecondary Education Network (PEN) International for students who are deaf and hard-of-hearing (National Technical Institute for the Deaf, Rochester Institute of Technology)
  • Pre-College Educational Network (P-CEN) in the ASEAN Region (National Technical Institute for the Deaf, Rochester Institute of Technology)
  • Building a better Asia: Deaf Dialogue (The Chinese University of Hong Kong)
  • Scholarships for deaf and hard-of-hearing students (Japan and USA)

Assistance to Projects Related to Visual Impairment

According to 2002 data provided by the World Health Organization, there are more than 161 million people worldwide who are visually impaired and more than 90% are living in developing countries. Surprisingly, up to 75% of all blindness is avoidable or treatable, which would explain why visual impairment is most prevalent in developing countries, where access to proper medical care and treatment is difficult.

Individuals with visual impairment are most often denied equal opportunities for education, employment and participation in society. In addition, in many developing countries the rights of people with disabilities are not being fully protected since self-help organizations are still in the stage of development. It is quite difficult for visually impaired persons to gain information since they must rely on mediums such as Braille and audiobooks to gain access to information.

The Nippon Foundation believes that it is paramount that all humankind is given equal opportunity for basic rights such as education, healthcare and participation in society. When this dream is realized, all people with disabilities including those with visual impairment will be able to reach their full potential and become contributing members of society.

The following is a list of projects that we have supported in the area of visual impairment:

  • Overbrook-Nippon Network on Educational Technology (ON-NET)
  • Improving Access to Higher Education for Visually Impaired Students in Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Cambodia
  • Provincial Development for the Visually Impaired in Cambodia
  • Asia-Pacific Network for Training of Medical Masseuses
  • Sustainable Solutions to Reduce Cataract Blindness in Vietnam

Other Disability Support Projects

The Nippon Foundation’s wide-ranging support for people with disabilities extends around the globe and goes beyond visual and hearing impairment. The following is a list of some of the efforts we have undertaken in the field to date.

  • Opening university education to persons with disabilities in Cambodia
  • Promoting establishment of an independent living center for persons with disabilities in Vietnam
  • Donation of welfare vehicles to Thailand
  • Leader training and establishment of self-help groups for persons with disabilities in Myanmar
  • Promotion of inclusive business for persons with disabilities in Asia
  • International arts festival for persons with disabilities in Cambodia
  • International music festival to improve the social position of persons with disabilities
  • Institute on Disability and Public Policy (IDPP) for the ASEAN region: the Cross Disability Initiative