Playright Children’s Play Association (Playright) Annual General Meeting
“Play, Children and Equal Opportunity” — Speech by Mr LAM Woon-kwong, Chairperson, Equal Opportunities Commission
Mrs. Anne Marden, Honorary President of Playright
Dr. C B Chow, BBS, JP, Chairperson of Playright Executive Committee
Mr. K F Ho, Vice-Chairperson of Playright Executive Committee)
I am honored to be here with you this evening to celebrate another year of great work for Playright, a very unique organization in Hong Kong.
Tonight, I am invited to speak on the theme “Play, Children and Equal Opportunity,” which is especially challenging in a city like Hong Kong. It is because Hong Kong people simply don’t want to let their children play. In the craze of education hype, letting our children play is probably the greatest sin any adult could ever commit. Here in Hong Kong, we like to discuss education or even inclusive education, but not play or inclusive play. I must confess, even at the EOC, we only have an initiative on “Education for All” regarding inclusive education for ethnic minorities children, and yet to have a “Play for All” initiative. That shows how important and challenging your work is. Playright is, indeed, very brave in doing what you are doing in this city.
Every child has the right to play. It is provided in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 31. Not only that, we should also provide for appropriate and equal opportunities for such play activities for our children. The vision is as straight forward as that.
That is to say we must look into the need and right of EVERY child. However, given the context and values of Hong Kong people, it will not be easy because we all know that inclusive play goes beyond building ramps and tactile floor, but brings Hong Kong to the next level in promoting and protecting equal opportunities for all children, in all aspects of development.
Hardware for inclusive play – creation of enabling environment
I will start with the relatively easy aspect: hardware for inclusive play. We must create the enabling environment for inclusive play. I say relatively easy doesn’t mean that it’s easy. I say this because you have been working very diligently on this for more than 20 years in advocating for inclusive playground and public space. You have conducted research, held dialogues and make changes in all fronts. Together, we must continue to enhance accessibility and safety of playground and other built environment. We must continue to ensure we have adequate inclusive play resources for all children. We must continue to make others understand that having barrier-free facilities is ONLY the basics of the basics. And, we must move on to a multidisciplinary approach towards UNIVERSAL DESIGN for play.
Software for inclusive play – creation of supportive environment
Here comes the challenging part: software for inclusive play. By software, I am referring to mindset. We need to educate and advocate to adults, parents and teachers alike, the value, importance of play.
The mentalities of adults need to be changed. Play IS crucial and integral to development and well-being of all children. Adults don’t let children play because some think it is a waste. Many others think it is unsafe, especially to those with disabilities. If you go out to any public spaces or on public transport, it is easy to find adults telling children “don’t run,” “don’t fool around,” and “watch out, don’t hurt yourselves.” It is time for us to acknowledge that play can be safe, even for children with disabilities. It is time for us to educate ourselves, as over-protective adults, not to deprive children’s rights to play, development, experience, and enjoyment.
Issues of harassment and bullying, especially those targeting children with special needs and disabilities must also be addressed. Inclusive education has brought children with different abilities all together in one classroom. Play activities inside and outside of the classroom become timely opportunities for children to learn from each other. However, these can also become places where they harass each other. Parent education in this front is pivotal in directly influencing children’s perception of other children. We must be vigilant in preventing and dealing with harassment and bullying of any sorts, both inside and outside of the classrooms.
Change via inclusive play – creation of a new culture
Play is a crucial learning process. It is also a changing process. Children learn to listen, speak, think and create through play. They learn to respect, build a team and obtain new knowledge through play. In a new front, children should also learn of their own, and others’ basic rights. I strongly advocate for the use of play as education means for equal opportunities and breaking of stereotypes. Through play we can nurture our next generation to embrace cultural diversity, intergenerational understanding and social inclusion.
To conclude, I want to once again congratulate on your achievement. Your dedication and passion to go against the tide is truly admirable. I would like to assure you that, children with or without disabilities in Hong Kong are under the protection of our four equal opportunities laws, and the work of Playright has full support from the EOC. From recreational to crucial; from discrimination to inclusion: play is integral the development of every child. Now is truly the time for the paradigm shift of play to happen in Hong Kong. Thank you very much.