Bias watchdog criticises Link's failure in malls

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 14 September, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 14 September, 2010, 12:00am

The anti-discrimination watchdog isn't happy with efforts by The Link Management to improve access for the disabled at its shopping centres and car parks - and he's telling the company so.

'I'm not satisfied with their progress,' Equal Opportunities Commission chairman Lam Woon-kwong said yesterday.

Lam was speaking three months after a study by the commission found the provision of barrier-free facilities in many government premises and The Link's shopping centres - formerly owned by the government - to be far from satisfactory.

Lam told RTHK that the government had responded by giving the commissioner for rehabilitation the task of co-ordinating improvement among government departments.

But The Link's response had been 'scrappy'. He said the watchdog had legal power to issue an enforcement notice if an investigation found no satisfactory improvements had been made. 'But of course we don't wish to lock horns with them,' Lam said. 'It would be best if The Link, such a large property management firm, could strike a balance between having a social conscience and pursuing commercial considerations.'

The Link, which owns 180 retail and car park properties formerly owned by the Housing Authority, said it had been gradually adding barrier-free access to its buildings, but priorities had to be set for the work.

'We have followed up closely on the cases raised by the EOC,' a spokesman said.

Rehabilitation Alliance Hong Kong chairman Cheung Kin-fai said he and many disabled people agreed with Lam that The Link was to blame for not providing good access for malls. 'For disabled people like myself, having to travel about in public estates and The Link's malls is really tough,' he said.

He gave an example: 'After the company took over and renovated the mall in Lok Fu, where my group is, we've had to travel longer and more circuitous and exposed routes to enter and leave it. Many structural changes were made to the mall, whose aim was only to boost circulation - inconveniencing us disabled people.'

Another frustration was that the company and Housing Authority would shift responsibility to each other when the group made inquiries, he said.

Lam said in a South China Morning Post column last week that people were prone to be indifferent to things that did not concern them. 'But accessibility is everyone's issue, and we must move beyond being concerned merely for today's convenience in order to adequately prepare for the assistance we all may require tomorrow,' he wrote.

'Perhaps you are now taking care of your elderly parents. Perhaps you are a mother who uses a baby stroller. And, inevitably, all of us will grow old, and many of us will require assistance in our old age. The government should do more ... to seriously table problems of accessibility.'

A study by the Equal Opportunities Commission released in June found that the provision of barrier-free access to about 60 government-owned premises such as libraries and wet markets was 'far from satisfactory'.

Fifteen per cent of polling stations in the most recent Legco by-election were inaccessible to people with disabilities, although the commission had raised the issue a decade ago, Lam said.