Equal Opportunities Commission



Kick-off Ceremony of Limitless 2020
Organised by The Hong Kong Polytechnic University

Opening Remarks by Mr Ricky CHU Man-kin, Chairperson, Equal Opportunities Commission


Dr Eric TAM (Ir Dr Eric TAM, Associate Dean of Students and Section Head (Student Resources and Support), The Hong Kong Polytechnic University), fellow guests, friends and students,

Good afternoon. Thank you for inviting me to kick off this year’s edition of Limitless.

The title of this campaign, in my view, is visionary and apt. Students and youngsters shouldn’t be bound by any limits in developing their potential and pursuing education or other interests in their lives.

As the late and former president of Yale University, Professor Angelo Bartlett GIAMATTI once said, “Universities are not here to be mediums for the coercion of other people; they are here to be mediums for the free exchange of ideas.”

For this exchange to be truly free and open to all, the value of equal opportunities is essential.

In particular, students with disabilities or special needs should be able to learn and access campus facilities on an equal basis with others. Though it needs a bit of updating, the latest Government statistics, from 2013, shows that while a quarter of the Hong Kong population had attained post-secondary education, that number drops to 7.6% for people with disabilities, or PWDs in short.

In a knowledge-based economy like Hong Kong’s, educational attainment has an immediate impact on our livelihood and career prospects. Not getting a college degree isn’t the end of the world, but inevitably it means missing out on an opportunity to hone one’s potential and, along with it, a competitive advantage in one’s career pursuit as well.

Again, the data speaks for itself: seven in every ten working PWDs are employed in low-skilled positions, while the unemployment rate for PWDs doubles that of the general populace.

They may be different from some of us, but being different does not mean being deficient. So what exactly is stopping them from enjoying the benefits of tertiary education?

The root of the problem lies in unaccommodating environments and cultures, in the way campuses are designed, how classes and exams are conducted, and how study materials are prepared.

For example, is there barrier-free access to every building on campus? Are students with hearing loss offered seats at the front of the lecture theatre, so that they can read lips and pick up other visual clues easily? Do teachers provide notes in formats recognisable by screen readers used by students with visual impairment?

Make no mistake – it is not about trying to be nice. It is not about giving privilege or “special rights” to PWDs. It’s about being fair and levelling the playing field. The “normal” vs “special” binary is misguided, and it fuels stigma. Indeed, we must awaken to the inherently demeaning nature of this kind of mind-set, and the fact that it is fundamentally wrong to build and run a society that only caters for a majority and excludes others, no matter how small in number they may be.

This difference in mind-set may be subtle, but it is vital. It is precisely this rights-based approach that is championed by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which came into force in Hong Kong in August 2008 as China became its 33rd ratifying party.

I am therefore encouraged to see an increasing acceptance of students with special education needs (SEN) by universities in Hong Kong in recent years, thanks at least in part to additional funding support from University Grants Committee (UGC). From the academic year 2011/12 to 2017/18, the number of SEN students at the eight UGC-funded universities rose from 196 to 483. That is a yearly increase of 16% on average. 

Of course, PolyU has been one of the important drivers in this progress. With programmes like Limitless and other initiatives, the university has committed itself to promoting inclusiveness both inside and beyond the classroom year after year.

The EOC is paving the way for change, too. This year, we have commissioned two studies, one on young PWDs transitioning from school to work, and another about workplace discrimination against persons with mental health issues. I am certain that our findings would reveal more ways to empower PWDs to continue to live a fruitful and fulfilling life after graduation.

The path to equality is never plain sailing; we need all hands on deck. So, allow me to urge you all to give your full support to Limitless. Spare time for the talks, workshops and training sessions. Remember the lessons you learn as you strive for the change you wish to see.

Last but not least, may I wish the campaign this year a resounding success.