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Hong Kong MTR

Hong Kong ‘must catch up with Taiwan’ to become a disability-friendly city

Disabled residents and their advocates say the city must emulate places like Taiwan, and offer more barrier-free access in buildings and train stations

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 16 January, 2018, 6:33am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 January, 2018, 7:03am

To those passing by a brown-tiled building in Sheung Wan, a blue sign with a wheelchair symbol, clearly pasted on the structure and on a metal door of a wheelchair accessible toilet, would certainly catch their eye.

But for Hong Kong’s disabled residents, the image is laden with irony.

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The Lok Ku Road public toilet is surrounded by staircases but no ramps, making it nearly impossible for wheelchair-bound people to get to it.

The toilet is among the design oddities – identified by the Hong Kong Rehabilitation Society – that make the city an unfriendly place for those with disabilities.

Other examples the society cited included pedestrian sidewalks connected by stairs – such as those commonly found in Sheung Wan and the Lan Kwai Fong area in Central – which would effectively force wheelchair-bound citizens to use the roads and risk their lives.

Indeed, for Fung Tat-ho, who has been confined to a wheelchair for five years, revisiting the famous Luk Yu Tea House seems like a pipe dream.

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Fung has Kennedy’s Disease, a rare and incurable disorder that results in weakness. The traditional dim sum restaurant on Stanley Street, he said, was “a place that I always went to when I was working in Central some 10 years ago.

“But it is mission impossible now,” the 48-year-old Hongkonger said.

While the government had generally been reasonably responsive in rectifying design oddities whenever a complaint was made, Fung lamented that there was still a long way to go for Hong Kong – particularly its railways – to catch up with other places such as Taiwan in catering to the needs of the disabled.

He recalled his recent ordeal of travelling to Tseung Kwan O from his Shau Kei Wan home through the MTR subway, a journey which would usually take only 20 minutes for people without disabilities.

“I could not get into the Shau Kei Wan station because of a maintenance project and so I tried to head to Sai Wan Ho station [on road] – but the lift there had also broken down,” Fung said.

He eventually spent half an hour going to Tai Koo station on his wheelchair where he could finally board the train.

“It is very far away. I would be very worried [if I had been in a] medium-sized electric wheelchair … as the battery only lasts for three to four hours,” he said, adding that the larger wheelchair could be used for several more hours.

Fung said not many MTR stations were equipped with more than one barrier-free access point, such as passenger lifts, ramps, stair lifts and wheelchair aids. That, he said, was highly undesirable as disabled people would have no choice but to opt for other means of transport if those already-scarce facilities broke down.

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“That is not very people-oriented,” he said. “MTR Corporation, with its tremendous surplus, could do better by providing a contingency plan for each station.”

The gaps and unlevel height of the trains and platforms also forced wheelchair-bound passengers to rely on the help of MTR staff in boarding trains, he said, a stark contrast to his recent experience in Taiwan, where he needed no help from others.

Responding to questions from the Post, the MTR Corporation did not provide exact figures on how many of its stations were equipped with more than one barrier-free access point.

It said it would “provide alternative arrangements according to the practical operational situation and geographical conditions in case these facilities are unavailable”.

Social worker Sunny Wong Sing-long, of the Hong Kong Rehabilitation Society, said there needed to be more respect accorded to disabled residents.

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Sunny Wong Sing-long, Hong Kong Rehabilitation Society

He gave the example of how many buildings in the city are equipped with only one lift meant for transporting trash, and disabled people wanting to access the building would have no choice but to use it, he said.

“The demand for barrier-free facilities is set to rise amid the ageing population and [just maintaining] minimum standards would not address the needs of society,” Wong added.

In response to enquiries from the Post on the Lok Ku Road toilet, a Food and Environmental Hygiene Department spokeswoman said different government departments would come up with ways to rectify any disability-unfriendly designs.

A public engagement exercise is set to be launched early this year to formulate a new Hong Kong Rehabilitation Programme Plan, a blueprint to address the rehabilitation service needs of persons with disabilities.