Equal Opportunities Commission



The 7th International conference of Human Services Information Technology Applications (HUSITA7) Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) & Social Inclusion 24-27 August, 2004 Hong Kong Symposium Day 4: August 27, 2004 Plenary Session on Community

“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 conference 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 statute in 1996 to administer three anti-discrimination laws, namely the Sex Discrimination Ordinance, Disability Discrimination Ordinance and the Family Status Discrimination Ordinance. These Ordinances 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. In line with the spirit of Article 27(1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states "Everyone has the right freely to... share in scientific achievements and its benefits", the EOC believes that everybody, including those who traditionally face lack of access, such as women and persons with a disability, have the right to benefit from the development in information and communication technologies. They also have the right to development and full participation in society.


Earlier in May this year, I attended two international conferences, namely the Global Summit of Women 2004 in Korea, with the theme "Leadership, Technology and Growth", and the Global ICT Summit 2004 in Hong Kong, with the theme "From Adversity to Success - The World's Best E-Content & E-Creativity". Both Summits addressed the issue of digital divide and advocated IT accessibility as an important factor for empowering women and persons with a disability. The Summits aimed at accelerating the social and economic development of these target groups with emphasis on using IT for expansion of networks, integration into the society and growth of businesses. On both occasions, we have learnt about many examples of up-to-date local, regional and international initiatives and efforts to bridge the digital divide for women and persons with a disability.

Against this background, I am glad to share with you the experience in Hong Kong. In fact, the public and private sectors in Hong Kong have worked hard to close the digital gap since the late 1990's. The Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region announced its Digital 21 IT Strategy in November 1998, pledging its commitment to enhance the bridging of the digital divide so that the entire community will benefit from IT development to improve the quality of life.

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 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. Persons with a disability would be marginalized if those who develop new technologies do not give any thoughts to their special needs. Strategies in ICT development and bridging the digital divide, 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 not only a human rights issue, it makes business sense.


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


To take the issue further, we set up an IT Task Force in May 2000, comprising experts in technology, design and training in the IT field, to address accessibility issues for persons with a disability. 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. One of the recommendations of the survey was a call for the government to address the access issues 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. As you can see, the EOC has been playing an advocate and catalyst role, by encouraging the public and private sectors to take up initiatives so that persons with a disability, especially persons with visual impairment, can access information. While web accessibility is just one solution to tackle the digital divide, it is an important first step as it enhances access to public information.


It is widely recognized that knowledge-based management is crucial to an organization's success, and the role of ICT is pertinent in providing solutions for effective sharing of knowledge. Improved access to ICT ensures that information and experience can be shared with specific target groups in a timely manner. Since 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, EO Essentials Kit for SMEs - 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 broader audience. To further enhance this, we are planning to launch a "Business Forum" in our website, with the aim to set up a sustainable programme to disseminate in-depth knowledge about EO related issues, trends and good management practices to the business sector. In this way, the EOC will act as an information-clearing house on equal opportunities issues to meet the needs of the various sectors.


At the Inter-regional Seminar and Symposium on International Norms and Standards, organized by the Commission and co-sponsored by the United Nations, the University of Hong Kong and the Hong Kong Council of Social Service in December 1999, the speakers highlighted the importance of IT accessibility and design which are in line with international norms and standards to ensure the equalization of opportunities for persons with a disability.

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 at the EOC booth was a quadriplegic person who used the computer to learn new skills and communicate with his friends on-line. This reminds us of the familiar story of Ah Bun (Mr. Tang Siu-bun), who is paralyzed from his neck down due to an accident in 1991. In March 2004, he wrote an email to Hong Kong's legislators seeking their help to let him die. After the media reported his appeal, many mobilized to support and help him. Encouraged by the public response and the possibilities brought by recent advances in ICT and rehabilitation technology, Ah Bun has changed his mind and pledged to make the most of his life. An initially sad story has ended up on a note of hope, which has highlighted how ICT can provide persons with a disability with the potential to live in dignity and participate in community life.

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 the Government, the Women's Commission, NGOs and the community at large have been offering different initiatives to provide computer courses, E-learning packages 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.


We believe that the EOC cannot work on its own in promoting equal opportunities, we have to involve the various sectors of the community. In our efforts to promote IT for all, a success story is the involvement of 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, which was showcased at the ICT Expo earlier this year, 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.

The EOC is also 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 (IProA) 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. We also sponsored the Global ICT Summit 2004, organized by IProA, at which the EOC presented a paper on its efforts in advocating E-inclusion, delivered a luncheon speech on "ICT: Adding Meaning to Life", and displayed our work at the exhibition.


High level ICT accessibility within a society shows a strong acceptance of differences and diversity among its members. It also demonstrates a commitment to respect the fundamental rights of individuals in accessing information. We all know that "information is power". Accessibility enables an individual to link up with others, achieve his/her potential, 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.