Equal Opportunities Commission


E-news Issue 202


Access to meetings for PWDs can be better ensured, writes EOC Chairperson

While barrier-free facilities have become a less obscure concept over the past few years, people with disabilities (PWDs) continue to encounter obstacles in different areas of life from time to time. Recently, the EOC received enquiries about the barriers PWDs face when participating in shareholder meetings held by listed companies, a seemingly commonplace activity in the eyes of able-bodied investors.

In an article published in Hong Kong Economic Journal, Hong Kong Free Press, Inmedia, Stand News and The Standard this month, EOC Chairperson, Prof Alfred CHAN Cheung-ming highlighted the importance of addressing the issue. “Currently, it is not uncommon for companies to issue meeting notices that only contain information on the time, place and agenda of the meeting, with no mention of barrier-free routes to the venue, the barrier-free facilities available there, or the accommodating measures – if any – to be arranged during the meeting,” wrote Prof Chan. “If the venue does not come with barrier-free access, then wheelchair users will not be able to attend; likewise, people with hearing impairment will be excluded from discussions if there is no sign language interpretation service.”

According to section 26 of the Disability Discrimination Ordinance (DDO), it is unlawful to discriminate against PWDs by refusing to provide them with goods, services or facilities, paid or otherwise. Unless there is unjustifiable hardship in addressing their needs, failure to provide PWDs with reasonable accommodation – whether it is picking an inaccessible meeting venue or declining requests for assistive devices or arrangements – may constitute indirect discrimination and lead to civil liability.

In a letter issued to the Hong Kong Institute of Chartered Secretaries in October 2018, the EOC recommended that all meeting notices should include a reply slip for potential participants to indicate any special needs they might have. This practical solution would allow companies to plan ahead and make accommodating arrangements. Indeed, we hope to inspire a stronger commitment to accessibility among organisers of all kinds of meetings, from conferences and seminars to business pitches and public consultation sessions.