Topics: Social Issues Discrimination Oi Man Estate Social Issues Staff Reporter

Hong Kong's law is clear when it comes to disabled people - they must be treated the same as those without disabilities. Some housing estates are abiding by this rule by installing synthesised speech assistance for blind residents to make it easier for them to use the lifts.

Unfortunately, this system has been disconnected after only a few weeks at one block of an estate in Ho Man Tin following complaints from other residents about the noise made by the equipment. This is an insensitive move that may well be in breach of laws designed to protect disabled people from discrimination.

To residents annoyed by what they determined was excessive noise, the decision was a sensible return to normalcy. Others may consider the issue minor, taking into account that the Housing Department is taking steps to make the equipment less disruptive. But for the visually impaired, the incident illustrates the disregard they are sometimes subjected to in going about their lives despite the safeguards put in place to protect their rights.

The Disability Discrimination Ordinance is clear on the matter: disabled people must not be subjected to discrimination, harassment or vilification when it comes to access to public buildings, goods, services and facilities, education, employment and recreation. New technology means the disabled do not have to be as limited in their movements and opportunities as they may once have been. Disabled people should not have to feel they are being treated as unequal. Some of the blind residents at Oi Man Estate are taking the lift matter to the Equal Opportunities Commission. Their eight-year campaign for installation of the speech system came to fruition in October, finally allowing them to leave their building and get home with the same confidence as other residents. Now, they find it has been disconnected without warning.

The rights in question are shared by all people in Hong Kong: the ability to enjoy life to its fullest within the bounds of the law. Providing a means to independently get to the floor on which a flat or office is located is part of that obligation.

Doing this at Oi Man Estate has been shown to be possible, but it cannot be to the disadvantage of other tenants. A way has to be quickly found to put in place a less audibly intrusive system in the lifts there. Technology means that doing so should not be difficult. Public transport is rapidly adapting to such requirements and many office buildings have complied. Government offices provide facilities and services for the disabled and there is no reason why this should not also apply to public housing.

Hong Kong is not an easy place for disabled people to get around in. Steps are, however, gradually being taken in a bid to improve the situation. Every effort should be made by the government to ensure the rights of disabled people are respected.