Equal Opportunities Commission



2012 Autism Summit - “Investing in our Future: The Economic Costs of Autism”

Remarks by Mr LAM Woon-kwong, Chairperson, Equal Opportunities Commission


Thank you for inviting me here today. It is a pleasure to see so many different groups come together to discuss this important issue. The Equal Opportunities Commission believes that everyone, including people with autism and other developmental disabilities, should have the right to lead meaningful lives without barriers.

As we have heard this morning, this issue impacts not just the person with autism, but also their families and their communities. Listening to the earlier panels' international experts, the call to invest in our future resonates powerfully.

Also adding to the problem in Hong Kong is the relative lack of systematic data on the affected population. At the moment, the number of people with autism is projected to be somewhere between 70,000 to 200,000 in Hong Kong, based on overseas figures. Without reliable data, it is difficult to ensure that enough resources are allocated, and that the impact of the spent resources are appropriately measured. In short, it hinders targeted and effective policymaking, to all our loss.

Meanwhile, we continue to be hampered by outdated discriminatory attitudes and an absence of understanding. This unfair stigma often discourages parents and families from seeking early diagnosis or intervention, something you all know is extremely crucial.

Stigma also negates the value of people with autism as potential employees, consumers, and community members. This adds to the long-term duty of care which the families will have to shoulder, often without adequate support systems.

Stigma has real, tangible dollar costs.

At the Equal Opportunities Commission, we have witnessed the courage of parents and families in standing up against such biases. I am reminded particularly of the case of a mother who had sought help from us.

She fought for the right of her son, who has autism, to fair treatment and respect. At her son's birthday party at a restaurant, the boy was excited and began to shout loudly. The restaurant manager scolded them and demanded that they stop frightening other guests and leave, despite her attempts to explain. He told her that her son was not welcome there.

Such situations might sound familiar to many of you here. Aware of her son's right to live a discrimination-free life, this mother brought the case to the EOC.

After our intervention, the restaurant agreed to conciliate with her and agreed to her request to make donations to an organisation serving people with intellectual disability. It also arranged for their staff to take part in fund-raising activities for this cause. So had it not been for her persistence and determination, such a positive outcome would not have been possible. By taking action, she contributed to ensuring that everyone has the right to participate in society.

I urge others who face a similar situation to follow her example and speak out against the injustice. Everyone in Hong Kong is protected by the Disability Discrimination Ordinance against discrimination on the ground of disability.

So we return to the title of this summit: We must invest now to ensure equal opportunities for all tomorrow. And while the Government has begun to put additional support measures in place, more can be done. We must develop a more reliable prevalence-tracking mechanism. We must invest in greater support for carers.

And we must raise public awareness and understanding of autism and other developmental disorders. By changing mindsets and removing costly stigma, we can ease the long-term burden of autism on families and communities.

I am heartened to see so many here, both from the public and private sectors. I also applaud the research efforts of Heep Hong Society and the School of Public Health and Primary Care of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, whose study will be presented in the afternoon. The data will help to fill the locally-specific information gap on autism and its effects.

The knowledge and ideas shared here today will go a long way to helping us find a better, more coordinated strategy to tackle this issue. By working together, we can build a future of possibilities for all.

Thank you.