Hong Kong's record on disabled rights attacked at UN

Government lags woefully behind nations like New Zealand and UK in protecting vulnerable people from discrimination, summit to hear

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 September, 2012, 3:47am

Hong Kong will be accused of falling short on protecting the rights of people with disabilities at a United Nations committee hearing later this month.

At its meeting on September 17-18, the UN's Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities will consider criticisms of Hong Kong's record from a group of local non-governmental organisations.

Their submission accuses the government of failing to address limited education and employment opportunities along with accessibility issues and unsatisfactory legal protection for the city's disabled community.

The coalition of groups includes the Grand Alliance of Parents for the Rights of Persons with Special Educational Needs and Human Rights Monitor.

While Beijing has signed the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Hong Kong's government still adheres to its own Disability Discrimination Ordinance, a much narrower entity that does not oblige it to promote equal opportunities.

"Countries such as New Zealand and the UK made legislative amendments after they endorsed the UN Convention," said retired social worker Emily Fung Wai-ying, who represents one of the NGOs that made the submission.

"But Hong Kong has not. Schools should be asked to provide appropriate support to students with special needs."

She said the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) could be doing more to protect people's rights. "It has done research on issues, such as the number of accessible schools and the characteristics of autistic kids, but it has done little advocacy," she said.

The submission seeks the creation of a high-level government committee to formulate policies on these issues, and an independent monitoring mechanism to protect, promote and ensure the rights of people with disabilities.

It calls for "disability mainstreaming", such as legislation to require old private buildings to install barrier-free access, facilitated by financial subsidies and technical assistance.

"The whole world is talking about inclusion, in the sense of embracing diversity, and that is the spirit of the convention," said Maria Wong Yuen-bing, president of the Special Education Society of Hong Kong.

The submission targets the government's inclusive education policy, under which all pupils are placed in the same type of school regardless of disability.

"The random allocation of children to primary and secondary schools has introduced tremendous and unjustifiable hardship to the schools, the children and their parents," it says.

Children in special schools are not given enough guidance or support to move into mainstream education, the submission says.

Their progress is held back by delays in early intervention programmes and access to tools, such as hearing aids, cochlear implants, FM systems and special learning materials.

Kwok Hiu-chung, education officer at Human Rights Monitor, urged the EOC to push for local legislation of the UN convention.

The submission also highlights discrimination under the minimum wage law, which allows a disabled employee's pay to be cut if their productivity falls short. Under the discrimination ordinance, employers cannot be prosecuted for terminating a disabled person's contract if their productivity is inadequate.