No one exempt from our disability law

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 May, 2011, 12:00am


Hong Kong aims to be a leading light in the developed world, as sophisticated and trend-setting as the best of them. Dig just a little below the surface, though, and it is sometimes apparent there is catching up to do when it comes to some social practices and behaviour.

We are, on occasion, a step or two behind what has been adopted by the United Nations, European Union and US. It is perhaps not inconceivable, then, that a visually impaired man travelling by himself says an airline refused to let him board a plane because of his disability.

Details will not be known with certainty until the Equal Opportunities Commission has investigated. Until then, it is the word of the man against that of the airline. He says he was eventually allowed to get on the flight to Shanghai, although first had to complain to the anti-discrimination watchdog, police, the Airport Authority and a support group. Even then, he alleges ground crew made him use a wheelchair.

The allegations, if substantiated, will be shocking to disabled people in other developed nations, where laws protecting their rights have been in force for decades. In Hong Kong, though, anti-discrimination legislation only came about in 1995 and took effect the following year, when a commission was established. That is despite the UN having espoused equality for all people since it came into being more than six decades ago and the first annual International Day of Disabled People having been held in 1982. Nonetheless, the Disability Discrimination Ordinance on the matter of how companies should behave towards customers is clear: they have to treat all people the same.

It takes time after laws are enacted for the mentality behind them to take root in a community. The government has to be dedicated to their promotion and enforcement to ensure their effectiveness. In a city aspiring to the highest standards, it should be second nature that we treat one another equally. No one, whatever the circumstances, can be exempt.