Hoang Yen Vo pursued a graduate degree in Human Development from the University of Kansas as an International Ford Foundation Fellow. Her ambition was to enhance her knowledge on disabilities and independent living as much as possible so that she could help increase the quality of the life of people with disabilities in her home country of Vietnam.
She received her Bachelor of Arts, Economics and Education, from the University of Economics and the University of Education in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. During her university studies, Yen met and talked with people with disabilities about the possibility of setting up a community-based disability organization. She and her colleagues have developed a newsletter 'Integration' which has been sent to individuals and groups with disabilities and government agencies relating to disability issues to share disability-related information as well as to give people with disabilities a voice for their concerns.
In December 1999, to celebrate the International Day of People with Disabilities, Yen and 12 other friends took pictures of people with disabilities in their daily life and held a photography exhibition named "Focusing on Equal Opportunities," which made the community recognize for the first time that people with disabilities were a part of community, but had been neglected.
In October 2000, Yen became vice-president of the Disabled Youth Association of Ho Chi Minh City, the first and only official organization of people with disabilities in Vietnam. In December 2000, she was invited by the Japan Council of Independent Living Centers, as the only representative with a disability from Vietnam, to the Second Summit International Conference on Independent Living in Honolulu, Hawaii. This is the first time she had ever heard the term "Independent Living."