Equal Opportunities Commission


Chairperson’s Articles

Prioritise universal design for a more inclusive Hong Kong


Accessibility has traditionally been about removing barriers for people with disabilities in the built environment. But as population ageing accelerates in Hong Kong, we need to take a more proactive approach to ensure that goods, facilities, and services can be easily used by everyone, regardless of age, ability or status in life.

Emphasising equitable use, flexibility, and intuitiveness, the principles of Universal Design (UD) will be key to helping us create a city that is more resilient, inclusive, and adaptable to the changing needs of the population.

Take automatic doors for example. Not only do they provide easier access for wheelchair users, but they also make going in and out of buildings effortless for a wide variety of users, from parents pushing prams to workers transporting heavy goods, and even busy office workers on their phones.

Last October, the Equal Opportunities Commission published a guide on UD specifically tailored for the catering sector. According to a survey on local restaurants, over 70% of the sampled facilities failed to comply with accessibility requirements. With a wide range of practical tips and measures, such as installing steps-free access and ensuring sufficient space between tables, the Guide aims to help restaurants improve the dining experience for all customers, and promote the principles of UD in the community.

However, incorporating the principles of UD into the built environment is just one part of the equation. In today's digital age, where technology permeates every aspect of our lives, it is crucial to eliminate barriers to accessing information on screens as well, such as self-service kiosks, digital queueing systems, and e-payment services.

It is encouraging to see that some businesses in Hong Kong are beginning to pay attention to improving the in-app user experience and user interface of their digital services.  During a seminar we conducted with representatives from the catering industry and digital accessibility experts in November 2023 we heard that a number of restaurants have started to implement a holistic approach to enhancing digital accessibility.

Beyond the simple measures of enlarging font size and using stronger colour contrast, the participants also came up with ideas to address glare on menu screens at different times of the day and employing images of menu items to supplement text. And with electronic payment fast becoming the norm, many businesses are eager for solutions to improve accessibility for digital wallets.

The EOC’s work with the catering sector is just the start. In our recent submission for the 2024-25 Budget Consultation, we recommended the Government to allocate budget for enhancing the adoption of UD through territory-wide accessibility audits and engagement, as well as provide seed fund for an independent body to facilitate the incorporation of UD principles into the Buildings Department’s Design Manual – Barrier Free Access 2008 (2021 Edition). In February, we also launched the Universal Design Award Scheme to encourage wider adoption of UD and improve accessibility in the physical and digital environment across different sectors. The Scheme, which is accepting applications until 15 April 2024, will recognise innovative designs that improve usability for not just people with disabilities, but also the elderly, carers, pregnant women, families with children, and more.

By making goods, services, and facilities accessible to the widest possible spectrum of people, the principles of UD have the potential to help businesses expand their customer base while making our city more inclusive.

An abridged version of the article was published in the SCMP on 7 February 2024