The 12th International Mobility Conference

“Orientation and Mobility in an Inclusive Society” (只備英文版)— Mr Raymond TANG, Chairperson, Equal Opportunities Commission Full Paper


I am honoured to be here today to share my views about equality and inclusion. I truly appreciate this opportunity to share information with experts around the world, to connect with people who care about mobility issues, and to learn from your wealth of expertise.

A Project of Vision

When I was preparing my paper for this important occasion, I read about a local project comprising persons with visual impairment being role models for secondary school students. The “Angel of Vision” Mentor Scheme was initiated by Retina Hong Kong last year[1]. Twenty persons with visual impairment have been visiting schools to conduct seminars and show students how they can overcome difficulties in life. I was touched by this initiative as it clearly shows that persons with visual impairment have their unique role to play in the community, and they can make tremendous contributions. Every one of us is part of the society and citizenry, and should be accepted as such.

The famous advocate and writer, Helen Keller, once said: “The greatest tragedy in life is people who have sight, but no vision.” She later elaborated on this concept by saying that, “True sight and hearing are within, not without”. What she said is particularly true for the 21st century. The knowledge economy is built upon creativity and imagination, and the ability to see is not a prerequisite to benefit from the knowledge economy, nor is it a determining factor for contributing to the community. A lack of sight certainly does not mean a lack of vision, and our society cannot afford to neglect the talents and potential of persons with visual impairment. They deserve a fair chance to work towards achieving their aspirations.

The Past and the Future

However, it has been a long and bumpy road for blind people in Hong Kong to achieve their aspirations. Just three or four decades ago, the culture in Hong Kong did not encourage blind persons to study. The highest level available to most blind students was Form Three in the 70’s, and the highest occupational achievement was to become a telephone operator. A former Member of the Equal Opportunities Commission refused to follow this narrow career path. No schools were willing to accept him after Form Three, so he worked as a telephone operator by day and read Braille books borrowed from a library by night. Afterwards he passed the A-Level examination and eventually made it to Oxford University. He obtained his graduate degrees and later taught at the University of Hong Kong, and eventually made a professor in his chosen field.

When our Commission staff interviewed the EOC Member several years ago for our quarterly newsletter, he mentioned that it seemed Oxford University had never accepted a blind student before him and was a bit apprehensive at first. But the University had a very constructive attitude of “How may we help” rather than “How can we reject you”. I think this is the positive attitude that we aim to cultivate in our community, and this is where our hope in the future lies.

The Role of the EOC

The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) is a statutory body responsible for implementing the anti-discrimination laws in Hong Kong. Our vision is to create a pluralistic and inclusive society free of discrimination where there is no barrier to equal opportunities. We are an independent body funded by the Government, and our role is to work towards the elimination of discrimination on the grounds of sex, family status and disability discrimination, through complaint handling, legal assistance, policy review, public education and training.

Since the Commission’s work began ten years ago, we have been partnering with different stakeholders working towards improving equal access to opportunities for persons with a disability. Ten years on, advances have been made, but more remains to be done.

On the positive side, there have been an increasing number of people who come to us and want to know more about what the anti-discrimination ordinances mean for them. The public are generally more receptive to persons with a disability. But on the other hand we are still hearing numerous stories of immense hardship. People with a disability say that they still have to endure the daily nightmare of negotiating buildings that are not designed for them. Many of them live in less affluent neighbourhoods and therefore, by definition, areas where buildings are relatively older and with fewer facilities. Despite repeated calls by persons with visual impairment, tactile paths and brighter corridors are not available in many public places.

In fact, amongst the groups of people the law aims to protect, persons with a disability often find themselves consigned to poverty, unemployment and social isolation. This may be due to forces of circumstance, lack of equal opportunity available to them, and, as a result, the absence of chances of development. This is so, even if the individual may possess personal attributes, which, if he or she had not been disabled, would have secured employment.

In recent years, an important paradigm shift has taken place in the approach in dealing with disability issues, shifting from the emphasis of welfare to the right-based approach. International rights instruments recognize the fundamental right of persons with disability to benefit from measures designed to ensure their capacity to live independently, social and occupational integration and participation in the life of the community.

The Commission’s work is about social change. It is also about fostering mutual respect in our society and promoting better access. However, it is still an unfinished battle. Less than two weeks ago, a group of blind people and wheelchair users, together with their supporters, lied on the grounds outside our Legislative Council and launched a petition. They demanded public transport fare concessions, but the government has not yet answered their calls, despite their continuing advocacy since 2002[2].

Two of the petitioners, a man and his wife, both blind, said that they could not afford expensive transportation fares and often had to walk to places. On one occasion they spent six hours walking from one end of the city to the other, and their nine-year old daughter kept on asking, “Why can’t we take the bus?”

Aspirations of the EOC: Accessibility and Inclusion

As a regulatory body, the EOC is committed to addressing the needs and concerns of all stakeholders. We assist individuals to exercise their rights and guide businesses and organizations in different sectors to comply with the legislation. The complexities of discrimination on any ground are often difficult to grasp, it is even more so to find the balance between rights of the individual, communal interest and the legitimate interests of businesses. The challenge for all of us is to find that balance.

Improving accessibility of buildings and public transport for persons with a disability remains a priority for the Commission. We believe that access to public transportation is a basic and important right for everyone. This is a particular issue affecting many persons with disabilities, one which has remained unresolved for several years. The Commission supports any effort to help persons with disabilities overcome barriers which hinder that access, and we urge the government and public transport operators to consider viable solutions for this issue.

The Commission has been advocating for better facilities and services for persons with disabilities. In Hong Kong, the estimated number of persons with a disability by the Census and Statistics Department was 269,500 in 2001 (this figure does not include the number of persons with chronic illness). The number of persons with visual difficulty is 73,900 (about 1.08 % of our current population of 6.8 million)[3].

The Commission believes that persons with a disability should be accorded equal footing in our society, and we want to help create an environment which is safe and accessible for persons with and without disabilities. To do our part, universal design was a top priority for us when we moved our office in March this year. Many accessible features have been installed and we have negotiated with various parties on the possible installation of accessible features in our building, such as Braille for lift buttons. The concept of universal design is gaining more attention in recent years and will become an increasingly prominent issue in the years ahead as Hong Kong’s changing demographics show.

The Commission is now working on a formal investigation on accessibility in certain publicly accessible premises in Hong Kong, as we continue to strive to improve the quality of life for persons with a disability in our community.

Realities: Advances and Obstacles

The power of information technology

With the rapid development of information technology, people with visual impairment can now access information through the Internet efficiently. Back in 1999, the EOC set a precedent in Hong Kong by launching its revamped website to promote e-inclusion, featuring six modes (including text-only modes, monochrome modes and the regular coloured modes) to enable all web surfers, including people with visual impairment, to browse our homepage easily.

At around the same time, our study (in 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). The government has since issued new improvement guidelines for its departments, and we have worked with many IT professional organizations in advocating the concept of “IT for All”. Much improvement in narrowing the digital gap has been achieved since then.


In the area of accessibility to built environment, one of the emphases is the removal of environmental, legal and technical barriers. An environment free of barriers is essential for independent mobility, which is a prerequisite for social, psychological, and employment integration for persons with visual impairment.

I was delighted to learn that the Factory for the Blind (under the Hong Kong Society for the Blind) has set up a Barrier Free Access Technology Service Unit, which produces Braille signage, tactile maps and tactile products. These products are designed to facilitate easy access for the visually impaired and particularly to public buildings and public transport. However, many persons with visual impairment said further improvements to our built environment are still necessary. And while the New Design Manual for new buildings has laid down requirements for barrier free facilities in Hong Kong, most barrier free facilities of new buildings and public services facilities were far from satisfactory, according to numerous users and NGOs. Inaccessibility limits mobility of disabled persons and their pursuit of activities, which, to some other people, would have been regarded as normal or routine. The rights-based approach to the concept of anti-discrimination is to give back to those affected, in this case, our disabled friends, a measure of human dignity - dignity that is the birth-right of every individual.

Complaints the Commission received which are related to access to built environment make up about 13 % of the cases lodged under the Disability Discrimination Ordinance. Generally, there are three common areas of concern, and that is, the availability, connectivity and usability issues.

In most of the cases, we are able to help parties to come to amicable resolutions. The solutions are found amidst various options-- removal of barrier, alteration of the building or facilities, and provision of alternatives. Of course, there are cases which cannot be resolved due to physical, financial or geographical constraints. The EOC, as a statutory regulator, recognizes these constraints. We perform our statutory functions in a pragmatic manner, according due cognizance to realities.

But we believe that usability should not just be a matter of whether or not it is possible for the person with disability to perform tasks or reach the location. It is also a matter of how dignified, easy and expeditious it is for them to do so. The human right principle of substantive equality, which strives for equal rights and opportunities and recognition of dignity and worth of every person, calls for this type of understanding. It is incumbent upon all of us - professional persons, regulators, advocates and fellow citizens alike - to assist in promoting this understanding.


Meaningful employment provides dignity to people with visual impairment. In Hong Kong, acupressure and massage has been one of the more popular occupations for people with visual impairment. With rehabilitation training programme offered by NGOs for visually impaired people, they are equipped with necessary skills to facilitate them to support themselves financially.

However, the reality is that many persons with visual impairment still have a hard time finding jobs even with the requisite skills, due to market saturation in certain job sectors and prejudice of employers and HR practitioners. The lack of access to employment, adaptive equipment, transportation, education and buildings create societal segregation of people with disabilities.

In one of our earlier studies Baseline Survey on Public Attitudes towards Persons with a Disability (1998), respondents thought that employers were unwilling to employ people with a disability. They considered that the main reasons were work ability, special needs (such as sick leave / medical expenses) and safety considerations. Some NGOs have called for introduction of quota system through legislation, adequate support and accommodations in the workplace, and vocational rehabilitation services for those not suitable for open employment. I think all these deserve in-depth discussion and consideration.


On the issue of education, about two-thirds (64%) of respondents in the study I just mentioned thought that persons with a disability were discriminated against in the current education system in Hong Kong, as a result of entry difficulties, lack of suitable curriculum, isolation, and also because their needs in terms of access, facilities and aids were not catered for by establishments. In another survey Baseline Survey of Students’ Attitudes toward People with a Disability (2001) we conducted, students’ stereotypical views towards people with a disability were evident. They tended to pay attention only to the constraints and limitations of people with a disability. The disabling implications of a given impairment were magnified because of misunderstanding and erroneous inference. For example, people with a disability were perceived as deviant, accident prone and appropriate for repetitive work. Seeing that more public education needs to be done, the Commission has initiated a series of projects to help eradicate stereotypes among young people and the general population.

International efforts in creating an accessible & inclusive environment for persons with a disability

On the international front, the EOC is honoured to have been able to contribute to the drafting of the International Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities. The treaty covers a number of key areas, including inclusiveness, accessibility, removal of stereotypes, freedom of movement, participation and non-discrimination and marked a shift in thinking from disability as a social welfare concern to disability as a human rights issue. Following conclusion of the negotiation stage in August this year, the draft treaty has been sent to the United Nations’ General Assembly for endorsement.

The General Assembly President Jan Eliasson has said that "this is the first convention of this magnitude for this century" and that it is conveying to the world "the message that we want to have a life with dignity for all and that all human beings are equal." We hope that it will be the dawn of a new era, as it confirms the international commitment to promote the rights of persons with disabilities.


The EOC will continue to administer our work according to the law while upholding the principles of equality and inclusion to strengthen Hong Kong’s social foundation.

There are two keys to make up an effective regulatory system, one is public awareness and acceptance, and the other is a law-based system to guard against discrimination.

Some measures can be considered to improve the system in Hong Kong:

  1. provision of assistive devices to all those who need them

  2. measures to increase employment opportunities for persons with a disability

  3. measures to make public transportation easier and more affordable

  4. provision of easier access to reading materials, with greater involvement and support of publishers

These measures may cost some money, but the cost of empowering people with disabilities by education and accommodation so that they may fully participate in society is modest compared to the social and human cost of vast numbers of people with disabilities being deprived of education, employment, and other basic human rights.

There are obstacles and challenges ahead. Nevertheless, they should be the occasions for us all to strengthen our collective resolve in fulfilling the rights of people with disabilities and providing everyone with an equal playing field. Thank you.

[1] A two-year grant of $420,000 was provided by the Community Investment and Inclusion Fund for this two-part project.

[2] A Subcommittee to Study the Transport Needs of and Provision of Concessionary Public Transport Fares for Persons with Disabilities was formed under the House Committee of the Legislative Council in late 2005. The Subcommittee focused its work on exploring feasible options to cater for the transport needs and to provide concessionary public transport fares for persons with a disability. The EOC’s views were sought on whether the provision of fare concession to certain groups of persons with a disability but not others, would contravene the Disability Discrimination Ordinance (DDO). The EOC had attended five meetings of the Subcommittee in 2006 to provide views on the legality of the proposed concessionary scheme. The EOC advised the Subcommittee that individual persons with a disability who had the same or similar need should be treated equally. In essence, we were concerned with whether there might be deserving persons with a disability who might be left out of the scheme, if selection of eligible persons with a disability were done by reference to types of disabilities as proposed by the Government. The Subcommittee considered that it was desirable to amend the DDO, to put it beyond doubt that selective provision of concessionary fares to persons with a disability would not constitute a contravention of DDO, and asked the Administration to follow up accordingly.

[3] As for Disability Allowance recipients, the number was 93 514 at the end of December 2001, including: * 57 038 who were physically disabled (excluding those suffering from total blindness); * 5 115 who were totally blind; * 4 356 who were profoundly deaf; and * 27 005 who were mentally disabled (source of information: http://www.info.gov.hk/gia/general/200201/16/0116226.htm).