Attitudes towards mentally handicapped

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 September, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 18 September, 2000, 12:00am

Read the following passage carefully and answer the questions set below.

Painfully slowly, but with patience and determination, local societies for the mentally handicapped have succeeded in changing some social attitudes to impairment. But intolerance and lack of understanding are so deeply entrenched that it could take another generation before majority opinion becomes more enlightened.

The atmosphere has vastly improved since 1993, when the opening of a centre in Wong Tai Sin had to be delayed for a year because of the bigotry of local residents. Sadly, a City University survey shows that this type of ignorance is still occurring - even among medical staff.

Reports of docile patients being tied to hospital beds in the apparent belief that anyone suffering from mental impairment needs to be restrained smacks of 19th century attitudes where anyone even mildly affected was locked away. It is shameful that professionals should be so lacking in understanding. Last year, staff at a special school in Tin Shui Wai were found to have kicked, hit and blindfolded their young pupils. It is unreasonable to expect members of the public to be more understanding towards the mentally disturbed if trained staff who care for them are totally uninformed.

Fortunately, there is another side to the story - and places where the mildly handicapped can show how easily they cope with work. Many local offices have handicapped staff. A cafe in Kowloon Tong manned by mentally disabled staff is an example of how public perceptions can be changed through direct contact.

Once clients moved into the Wong Tai Sin Centre and it began to quietly function, the row was forgotten. Thanks to the Government's community education scheme, funding open days, TV shows and exhibitions, some of the old myths and misconceptions are being dispelled.

Many more battles remain to be fought. Greater education is needed on mental handicaps to dispel the worst misconceptions. With goodwill and understanding, attitudes towards mentally handicapped people can be transformed, giving them fuller lives and fostering a more compassionate community.


1. Why is it so difficult to change the attitudes of Hong Kong people towards the mentally handicapped?

2. How did the residents of Wong Tai Sin react when a centre for mentally handicapped people was first opened there in 1993?

3. What examples are given here of professional staff treating mentally handicapped people badly?

4. What two incidents have improved public attitudes towards mentally handicapped people?

5. What way is suggested here of improving the attitudes of Hong Kong people towards the mentally handicapped?


1. mental impairment: a condition of the mind caused by one's mind having been damaged in some way

2. intolerance: the state of not being able to recognise all people as equal members of society

3. is so entrenched: is so much a part of society that it is difficult to change

4. majority opinion: the ways of thinking of most members of a society or group of people

5. becomes more enlightened: is more open to change, usually as the result of education

6. bigotry: an inability to change one's own opinions and prejudices

7. docile: obedient, easily controlled

8. to restrain: to control a person; to prevent a person from acting freely

9. smacks of 19th century attitudes: is like the intolerant ways of thinking common over 100 years ago

10. are totally uninformed: know so very little about the real situation

11. cope with work: manage to work successfully

12. to man: to provide people to work in a place

13. the row was forgotten: everybody forgot about the arguments and dissatisfaction

14. community education scheme: a government plan to inform or advise members of the public

15. funding open days: providing money to hold functions and invite the public to attend

16. myth: a popular belief, or way of thinking (usually mistaken) that has been handed down for hundreds of years

17. misconception: a wrong (or mistaken) way of thinking

18. to dispel: to drive something away; to get rid of; to remove

19. many more battles remain to be fought: a lot of problems still remain before the situation improves

20. to foster: to cultivate; to cause to develop

21. compassionate: kindhearted; sympathetic; warm


Traditionally, the people of Hong Kong have not fully understood mentally handicapped people and have not shown much tolerance and understanding towards them. However, in recent years, due to efforts by the Government and others, mentally handicapped people are gradually meeting with better acceptance from the general public.