Equal Opportunities Commission



Open Seminar: “Wheelchair Transportation Safety”
Co-organized by: Coordinating Committee in Occupational Therapy of the Hospital Authority The Hong Kong Occupational Therapy Association and The Hong Kong Polytechnic University

“Disability Discrimination Ordinance and Accessibility” — Speech by Mrs Patricia Chu, Chairperson, Equal Opportunities Commission


Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am delighted to be here today to address such a group of distinguished health professionals, executives and wheelchair users, and to share with you the work of the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) and our effort in promoting the rights of persons with a disability.

Hong Kong, with a land area of only 1,096 square kilometers, has a population of more than six million. With such a high population density, we could not afford a high car ownership rate; therefore, the majority of our population is served by the diversified multi-modal transport system including the railways, franchised buses, minibuses, taxies and ferries etc. According to the Annual Transport Digest 2003, a total of 11.9 million of passenger journeys went on the public transport system everyday, making up nearly 90% of daily passenger trips. Although there are affirmative policies and measures to facilitate persons with a mobility disability to drive, the need to have their vehicles modified with assistive features and the lack of disabled parking spaces in busy areas still make them heavily rely on the public transport system. Consequently, public transport is a matter of great concern for persons with a mobility disability, and accessible and safe public transport is essential for their effective integration into the society.

In the Survey on Obstacles to Persons with a Disability in Non-employment Fields in Hong Kong commissioned by the EOC in 1998, there were respondents with a physical disability who did not use minibuses or buses mainly because the design of the vehicles was not suitable for them. Some respondents indicated that public transport vehicles usually did not have handrails and vertical poles in easy grip configuration, which affected their safety. It is also impossible for them to board vehicles without a low platform.

For respondents with a physical handicap, as high as 25% said that they "seldom" used minibuses or buses, which are the major modes of transport for most people. Another 32.3% said that they only "sometimes" used these modes of transport. Only 42.7% said that they used it "all the time". In fact, because of the lack of accessible public transport facilities for persons with a disability, some respondents said that they declined to use public transport and confined themselves to their homes.

Without safe, reliable and accessible public transport service, persons with a disability, especially wheelchair users, would find it very difficult to commute from home to school, workplace, market, shopping centers and places of recreation, entertainment or leisure, etc. These design and safety problems, therefore, not only limited their choice in selecting modes of public transport, but also severely limited their full participation in society. Therefore, improving accessibility of public transport service does not only enhance the physical mobility of persons with a disability but also realize their equal access to education, employment opportunities and other community services and facilities. We are pleased to see gradual improvement in the accessibility of public transport service for persons with a disability in the past decade.

To protect the rights of persons with a disability in Hong Kong, the Disability Discrimination Ordinance (the DDO) was enacted in 1995. It came into force in September 1996. EOC is a statutory body set up to implement, amongst other anti-discrimination ordinances, the DDO. The DDO renders it unlawful for a service provider to discriminate against a person with a disability by refusing to provide him/her with goods, services or facilities. Provision of public transport service falls within the ambit of the DDO.

There are two forms of discrimination, namely, "direct discrimination" and "indirect discrimination". Direct discrimination occurs when, on the ground of disability, a person with a disability is treated less favourably than another person without a disability in similar circumstances. For instance, if a taxi driver refuses to provide service to a person because that person is a wheelchair user, it amounts to direct discrimination.

Indirect discrimination occurs when a condition or requirement is applied to everyone, but in practice affects person with a disability more adversely, which is to his/her detriment, and such condition or requirement cannot be justified. For example, if only buses without accessible features are available, that makes it more difficult, if not impossible, for wheelchair users to get on, this may amount to indirect discrimination.

Under section 26 of the DDO, providers of goods, services and facilities cannot discriminate against a person with a disability:

  • by refusing to provide that other person with those goods, services or facilities;
  • in the terms or conditions on which those goods, services or facilities are provided; or
  • in the manner in which those goods, services or facilities are provided.


In other words, public transport operators need to provide reasonable accommodation to persons with a disability so that they can equally enjoy the service. It is only when the provision of such service, or the associated accommodation needed, would impose unjustifiable hardship on the service provider would the service provider be exempted from that obligation.

To uphold the rights of persons with a disability in enjoying safe and accessible public transport service, the EOC adopts a 3-pronged approach, namely, the complaint mechanism by which individual aggrieved persons could seek redress, mainstreaming the needs of the disability community at policy level, and strengthening public education.

According to our statistics in the past 7 years, there was a total of 64 complaints lodged with the EOC in relation to public transport service, of which 23 were successfully settled by conciliation. The conciliation terms range from verbal apology, redeployment of accessible vehicles to certain routes, undertaking for service improvement etc. Where conciliation is not successful and the aggrieved party wishes to pursue the matter through litigation, consideration is given to granting legal assistance to the aggrieved party as the last resort. So far, only one case has gone through court proceedings.

To encourage the Government to mainstream the needs of the disability community at policy level, the EOC is working in partnership with the Transport Department and has been attending regular meetings with NGOs and transport operators as well. It is encouraging to note that the Government has requested the franchised companies to purchase accessible buses in their procurement exercise with a view to providing fully accessible service in the long run, and the Transport Department has also committed to the vision of "Transport for All".

To change public attitudes and behaviours, the EOC is strengthening its public education work, through various mass media and community activities involving various sectors. We also work in collaboration with NGOs and participate in public deliberation on the subject to raise awareness.

We also try to convey the message to the transport operators that as a caring community, the business sector has a significant role to play. Providing accessible service to persons with a disability does not only help to avoid expensive lawsuits but also helps to build up a good corporate image and expand business opportunities. With our aging population, it is inevitable that there are more commuters with mobility difficulties that may have to use wheelchairs. For experts who are in the assistive technology and design business, the aging population has in fact created a unique and an untapped business opportunity for them. The demand for access and safety facilities specially designed for wheelchair riders is there, and is increasing.

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 just entails adopting a mindset that respects diversity and equal opportunities for all. It means providing better facilities for everyone and expanding the client-base. Universal design and service improvements to help persons with a disability will almost invariably also help the large number of people who travel with young children, with baby buggies or laden with shopping.

We believe that making our public transport service accessible to people with disabilities will greatly improve their mobility and promote their integration into the community. It is the EOC's vision to foster an environment where there is no barrier to equal opportunities and no discrimination, and continuous joint efforts not only from the EOC, but all the stakeholders including concerned professionals, the academics, the disability community and the business sector are required. In this connection, I call for your partnership and support to bring about a more inclusive and cohesive society. Thank you.