Equal Opportunities Commission



24th World Federation of the Deaf Regional Secretariat in Asia/Pacific Representatives Meeting Opening Ceremony
Hosted by Hong Kong Association of the Deaf

Speech by Mr Lam Woon-kwong, Chairperson, Equal Opportunities Commission


President Lau, President Allen, Delegates, Guests, Friends,

Thank you for inviting me.

To the International Delegates, a big warm welcome to Hong Kong.

We are one of the richest cities in the world.  Government sanctioned rehabilitation service for people with disability started well back in the 1970s.  The Equal Opportunities Commission, which is tasked to promote equal opportunities for all and to administer anti-discrimination legislation, has been in operation for more than 15 years.  Yet, the City was shocked when one of its bright young women, who had severe hearing disability, jumped to her death a few years ago.  

She worked hard throughout her school years.  She overcame her disability with assistance from teachers and schools.  She was the first deaf student to have scored top grades in the local secondary school public examination.  She even became a chess champion, both locally and internationally.  She graduated from a local university, being one of the very few deaf students who made it to the top.

But from then on, she met her fatal hurdle.  Even with good university grades and a sound mind, she faced unspoken yet widely held prejudices in the job market.  She couldn’t find a job that allowed her to demonstrate her innate talents.  She felt the pressure of discrimination on many fronts: from potential employers who held stereotyped views against people with disability, from uncaring colleagues, from demanding clients, even from the daily passers-by who seemed to her to have no sense of empathy at all.  In the end, the tough reality proved too much for her.

I retell this story today not to invoke unhappy memories for those of you who knew her.  But to remind ourselves how easy it is for people with disability to be regarded, or disregarded, as a fringe group, even in a sophisticated community like Hong Kong. Without sustained and vigorous advocacy by concerned groups such as the Hong Kong Association of the Deaf and all the organizations which you delegates represent, it is simply too easy for this population to be ignored.  This is particularly so for the deaf community because you look the same as people with full hearing. 

We are all born to be equal.  We are all born to be free.  Free to pursue happiness, free to pursue our way of life.  What distinguishes a civilized community from a backward one is the way we treat our under-privileged members, in particular our fellow citizens who have disabilities. 

We need to remind, constantly, our respective government and our own people that disability is not a disgrace, that all of us may someday develop one or more forms of disabilities as we grow old or as we face the wear and tear of our lives.  We need to remind everyone that disability is not a burden, and that indeed it can be turned into an asset if we provide the right accommodation so people with disability can conduct their role with equal opportunities.

And this is what this International Meeting is about.  I send you our best wishes for a successful Meeting of the 24th World Federation of the Deaf Regional Secretariat in Asia/Pacific.  I wish you all a fruitful occasion.

Thank you.