EOC Announces Findings of the Formal Investigation on Accessibility in Publicly Accessible Premises
The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) today (7 June 2010) announced the findings of the “Formal Investigation on Accessibility in Publicly Accessible Premises” which examined 60 publicly accessible premises owned or managed by the Housing Authority, Hong Kong Housing Society, The Link Management Ltd. and various Government departments (Target Premises).
The Formal Investigation is a focus study which involved collection of quantitative and qualitative data through a combination of methods, including document review, access audit, focus groups discussion, case study, invitation of views and submission from stakeholders, response from owners and management of the Target Premises.
The Environmental Service of the Rehabaid Society conducted the access audit by inspecting the 60 selected sites from June 2007 to March 2008.
“The Formal Investigation indicated that the provision of barrier-free facilities at these public premises is far from satisfactory though the physical access to post-1997 premises have a higher compliance with DM 19971 and DM 20082. Buildings built prior to 1997 remain a big problem for people with disabilities,” said Mr. LAM Woon-kwong, Chairperson of the EOC. (Please refer to the Appendix for the major findings of the access audit.)
Mr. Lam said, “Accessibility affects many aspects of our lives and is one of the primary factors affecting the social participation of persons with disabilities.”
“In creating a barrier-free environment for people with disabilities, we are particularly concerned with three important factors: (i) provision of accessible facilities in compliance with the design standards; (ii) connectivity or seamless interface with the surrounding environment ; and (iii) usability of the facilities,” Mr. LAM explained.
“Very often, the insensitive or indifferent attitudes of property owners and managers are to blame for the shortfalls in the provision of accessible facilities. The awareness and accommodating attitudes of property/facilities owners, operators and staff managing the facilities contributed critically to the successful implementation of operational policies, procedures and practices,” said Mr. LAM.
In order to tackle the identified deficiencies, the EOC has made the following recommendations :
|1.||Recommendations in respect of the government|
To develop an overarching policy on building an inclusive society that adopts the principle of universal design.
To develop a corporate disability strategy for addressing accessibility issues in Hong Kong followed by a rolling action plan with time lines and designated funds in budgets to finance capital and improvement works.
To set up a high-level central co-ordinating body, headed by the Chief Secretary for Administration, to develop policies and practices on promoting universal access to public spaces, buildings as well as services owned and operated by the government and public bodies.
To amend the Buildings Ordinance (Cap 123) (BO) by removing the current exemptions of buildings belonging to the Government.
Government departments to take the lead in addressing current shortfalls.
To appoint an “Access Advisor” to provide assistance to people with disabilities in accessing premises.
To issue practical guidelines to government departments on access to services and facilities.
|2.||Recommendations in respect of property owners and managers|
To conduct periodic audits of their premises and devise a timetable and action plan for improvement works.
To provide regular training to staff and contract workers on accessibility issues and the needs of people with disabilities, as well as relevant laws and potential legal liabilities.
To consult stakeholders before any improvement works are carried out and follow up with impact studies.
Under the Disability Discrimination Ordinancce, developers and property management companies should provide access to people with disabilities unless this would impose unjustifiable hardship.
Mr. LAM emphasized, “The Government is obliged to eliminate various forms of discrimination. As compared to individual homeowners, the Government and related public entities are likely to be more resourceful and capable to rectify any deficiency that may exist, and by so doing will be in a position to set an example for the private sector.”
“Hong Kong's changing demographics will increase demand for better access and facilities for all people, including persons with disabilities and the elderly. Developing and adopting universal design is the answer for an aging population, which will also benefit wheelchair users, parents with young children, and the temporarily disabled,” Mr. LAM added.
“It is important to recognize that providing safe and accessible services to persons with a disability does not mean making separate and costly arrangements, it entails adopting a mindset that respects diversity and equal opportunities for all. It means providing better facilities for everyone and expanding the client-base,” Mr. LAM concluded.
Other than putting forward the EOC’s recommendations to the government, the EOC would be working closely with stakeholders from various sectors to rectify the accessibility problems identified in the Formal Investigation.
Equal Opportunities Commission
7 June 2010