Wheelchairs not welcome

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 04 June, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 June, 2000, 12:00am

On May 12, I and my friend, who is confined to a wheelchair, attended a performance of Le Cadre Noir de Saumur at the Coliseum.

We arrived an hour before the start of the show, so my friend's handicap could be accommodated.

We were guests of a charity representative, who had made arrangements via staff of the Jockey Club (organisers of the event) for us to be assisted upon our arrival.

We were permitted to access the fire escape and exit area via a ramp, but were then faced with 13 steps leading to the seating area.

There was no qualified help to carry a wheelchair. Despite more than an hour of negotiations with security men, six Chinese women in some management capacity and four St John's Ambulance staff members, 10 men from the Coliseum's security staff refused to carry my friend up the stairs. Finally, a seemingly important gentleman took charge and ordered them to act as instructed.

Once inside, we faced 10 steps down a steep aisle and the show had already begun. The only seats offered to us by officials were two uncomfortable-looking folding seats which were actually for a French television crew. It was only through the assistance of a member of the audience that my friend was found a seat. One of the officials from the Coliseum had assured us they would get us transportation after the show, but nobody turned up to help us. The security men and St John's Ambulance helpers stood at a distance refusing to come over and assist us. The man who had helped my friend get a seat and one of his friends, had no choice but to help us again. The Coliseum staff had completely failed us. We left the place long after everyone else had gone, being put out together with the rubbish thrown out by the amahs.

Hong Kong may be on its way to becoming a world city and is bidding to host the Asian Games, including the Paralympics, yet it seems unable to show that its public events buildings are wheelchair-accessible. Discrimination against people with disabilities is alive and well in Hong Kong. The Coliseum, which was built 16 years ago, has not the slightest provision for wheelchair-bound people. There is no access from the street level. An approach has to be by car past the KCR station. One should be able to come from the scenic waterfront to the venue.

A chair lift could easily be installed in the building. Perhaps the Coliseum's management should ask the Jockey Club for some funds to install one. The main floor around the building which gives access to the steeply tiered seats is about two metres wide and could serve as a viewpoint for wheelchairs (once carried up the stairs), but it has to be empty as it is a fire exit route.

I and my friend will never forget that evening, because of the discrimination, the cold refusal to help and the inability of management to deal with the problem.