Equal Opportunities Commission



Global Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Summit 2004 - Symposium Day 1 Special Presentation in e-Inclusion: Hong Kong & China Successful Cases

“The EOC's Experience of Advocating E-inclusion: Creating a Level Playing Field for All” — Speech by Mrs Patricia Chu Chairperson, Equal Opportunities Commission


Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am very honoured to join this important international event today and share with you the successful experience of the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) in advocating E-inclusion.


Let me first introduce the Equal Opportunities Commission of Hong Kong. The EOC was established by statue in 1996 to administer three anti-discrimination laws which prohibit discrimination on the grounds of gender, pregnancy, marital status, disability and family status. The EOC has a number of functions. We undertake investigation, conciliate complaints, provide legal assistance and promote equal opportunities through education, research and training.


The EOC has been advocating the creation of a level-playing field for all since our setup in 1996. We believe that every individual has the right to development and full participation in society. As Article 27(1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that "Everyone has the right freely to... share in scientific achievements and its benefits", the EOC also believes that everybody including those who traditionally face lack of access, such as women and persons with a disability, need to be able to benefit from the information economy.

Governments and the IT industry have worked hard to bridge the digital gap since the late 1990's. For instance, the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, with its Digital 21 IT Strategy, has pledged its commitment to harness the benefits of IT for the entire community. Full digital inclusion is our collective vision. To achieve this, our society has to tackle the fundamental causes of the digital divide, which include socio-economic and technical factors. Statistics show that socio-economic disadvantages such as lower education levels and incomes are reasons for lower Internet access. Women and persons with a disability are likely to be disadvantaged in accessing Information and Communications Technology (ICT) due to their socio-economic status. In addition, some women cannot enjoy what ICT offers owing to a lack of access to requisite training and education.

On the technical side, designs of IT products, both hardware and software, affect persons with a disability in joining the digital world. The end users of technology are not necessarily people with fully functioning senses and limbs, and they need special accommodation. Persons with a disability would be marginalized if those who develop new technologies do not give any thoughts to their accessibility. Strategies in ICT development, therefore, should seek to target these groups so that they are not further marginalized in a digital society. From another perspective, women and persons with a disability are also customers representing a large untapped consumer sector. Addressing their needs is therefore not only a human rights issue, it also makes business sense.


To promote the importance of making websites accessible, the EOC set a precedent in Hong Kong by launching its revamped Home Page which is user friendly to persons with a disability in November 1999. The revamped EOC website features six modes (including text-only modes, monochrome modes and the regular colour modes), which enables all web surfers to obtain information easily. Persons with a colour deficiency can select monochrome versions, whereas persons with severe visual impairment can access the text-only modes and read the information with a Braille display, a voice synthesizer or other conversion devices. Surfers with low vision can select font sizes that suit their needs and persons having difficulties in using the mouse can browse our Home Page by using function keys.

In 2002, our website was re-positioned as a driver of our e-inclusion concept of "IT for All". Amongst other features, we added a resource centre of EO publications, international links with related organizations, e-learning for students - in short something for everybody. Since then, we have enhanced our website annually and our hit-rate has grown many fold, proving that our message "IT for All", is reaching a far wider audience.

Our website is a major tool in our work of promoting equal opportunities. We align all public education and promotional initiatives with our homepage. One successful case involved a group of students from the Hong Kong Institute of Vocational Education. Last year, they designed a much needed search engine for our homepage. It became one of the Institute's most successful student projects, and the search engine on the EOC website was showcased at the ICT Expo last month, an annual event presenting some of Hong Kong's best information and communication technologies to the world.

Through this meaningful project, the students have shown their strong support for equal opportunities and commitment to applying their technical knowledge in serving the community. And for persons with a disability, the project ensures that they will not be left out when they navigate the EOC website.

In May 2000 we set up an IT Task Force to address accessibility issues for persons with a disability and women. One of the initiatives of the Task Force was a survey on Web accessibility. A report released in December 2000 found that out of 163 public sector homepages in Hong Kong, only 20% passed the Bobby test, an on-line accessibility check for Web users. Basic problems were found in 130 public service homepages at that time, posing obstacles for persons with a disability. The EOC called for the government to address the access issues in the survey, so that persons with a disability can enjoy equal opportunities as the rest of the community in accessing public information. This survey was widely reported by the media and the government departments have rectified the problems since then. While web accessibility is just one response to the need to tackle the digital divide, it is an important first step as it enhances access to public information.

Since the launch of our revamped Home Page, the EOC has been playing a catalyst role by encouraging the public and private sectors to take up similar initiatives so that persons with a disability, especially persons with visual impairment, can access information without obstacles. Such initiatives are not necessarily costly, for example, providing text-only modes does not require complicated or costly work, but it makes a big difference to blind people.


To further raise awareness, the EOC highlighted the importance of IT accessibility and the need to tackle this issue at the design stage, at the Inter-regional Seminar and Symposium on International Norms and Standards, which the Commission co-sponsored with the United Nations, the University of Hong Kong and the Hong Kong Council of Social Service in December 1999. The seminar identified strategies to ensure the equalization of opportunities for persons with a disability, in line with international norms and standards and recognized the importance of accessible Internet technologies.

To further promote the concept of "IT for All", the EOC participated in the Information Infrastructure Expo in March 2000 and March 2002, and displayed ICT products designed to be accessible to persons with different disabilities. One of the demonstrators was Mr. CHOW Chi-ming who could not move most of his body below his shoulders due to a neck injury. A rehabilitation center designed a head-pointer for him so that he could use the computer keyboard to communicate with his friends on-line. Mr. CHOW is determined to remain high-spirited despite his disability and the greeting cards he designed using the head-pointer have provided encouragement to many people in distress. He is a case of how IT can make a difference in people's lives.

Promoting IT for all is also important for the empowerment of women. We find that some women cannot enjoy what IT has to offer because of their family responsibilities or insufficient IT knowledge. We are pleased to see that both the Government and the community have been offering different initiatives to provide computer courses and access to computers in libraries and community centres.

In 2002, we sponsored the Symposium on Gender Equality and ICTs Development in Hong Kong organized by the Hong Kong Federation of Women's Centres. The Symposium addressed gender issues in ICT and called for policy makers' commitment to close the digital divide and advance gender equality. Some speakers pointed out at the Symposium that although more and more women are using new ICT, lack of access and knowledge are still issues facing women in many parts of the world. We feel that it is important to create conditions that will enable women to achieve their potentials by benefiting from ICT, in Hong Kong, in Mainland China and in the rest of the world.


The EOC has been working closely with the IT industry and professional organizations in empowering disadvantaged communities. For instance, we have been supporting the Web Care Campaign launched by the Internet Professional Association since 2001 to provide much needed computer and internet training to persons with disabilities, women, senior citizens and new arrivals. We organized a roadshow featuring two mobile IT training trucks with the Pegasus Social Service Christian Organization in 2001 to offer free IT training programmes for parents and students. The roadshow also showcased assistive devices for blind persons in collaboration with the Hong Kong Society for the Blind.

Our vision is that women and persons with disabilities can achieve their potentials by benefiting from ICT. We have provided funding to a number of non-governmental initiatives, which encourage community participation in promoting IT accessibility.


Increasingly web based training programmes are becoming more popular, and it enables people to learn on the internet at a time and pace that is convenient to them. Recently we have developed an E-learning package with the Education and Manpower Bureau called "Equal Opportunities Begin At School". It is designed to help teachers develop policies and appropriate practices to help students with disabilities to learn effectively at school. We believe that e-learning has the potential of reaching a large number of people and this package will definitely provide useful guidance on how to apply the equal opportunities laws in a practical way in the classroom, and help to create a level-playing field for all students.

We have also initiated an e-learning project with the civil service, the largest employer in Hong Kong. The package, which is in the process of development, will provide useful information and guidance about Hong Kong's anti-discrimination legislation and the general principles of equal opportunities.


A high level of ICT accessibility within a society shows a strong acceptance of differences and diversity among its members. It also shows respect for the fundamental rights of individuals in accessing information. And we all know that: information is power. Accessibility enables an individual to achieve his/her potentials, become self-reliant and make contributions to the society. As the principles of equal opportunities respect the rights of individuals and make good business sense, "ICT for All" contributes to the sustainable development of every society.

Thank you.