City Weekend

Push for library upgrades a success for elderly Hong Kong group

Tseung Kwan O resident says more community-based organisations are needed to push for government planning from the bottom up

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 July, 2017, 8:02am
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 July, 2017, 8:02am

It was a hot summer day in 2010, when 72-year-old Lau Ping-yin decided to drop in at the air-conditioned Tseung Kwan O Public Library after a sweaty walk in a nearby park.

But he found it impossible to get a seat in the crowded reading area for adults on the second floor, and the first floor was a children’s zone.

“It suddenly dawned on me that there were not many areas for the elderly to read books,” Lau, now 79, said. “Our eyes can’t see very well either. How wonderful it would be if there was an elderly reading zone with magnifying equipment.”

Elderly Hong Kong residents battle government red tape to achieve their goals

Lau brought his idea back to Tseung Kwan O Elderly Livelihood Concern Group, where he is a member, and the intrigued retirees decided to inspect the library to find out how it could be improved for the elderly.

They found that the desks were too low for people in wheelchairs to use, while other chairs did not have armrests, making it difficult for the elderly to get up, among other problems. They also conducted community-wide surveys for more feedback.

The group brought their suggestions on improvements to Sai Kung district council and held further meetings with the Leisure and Cultural Services Department and the librarian. To their surprise, it did not take long for officials to adopt their proposal.

An elderly-friendly reading area was created in the library within a year, with better desks, armchairs and wider access for wheelchairs.

There was also one electronic desktop magnifier to facilitate reading.

“There was only one magnifier at first,” Lau said. “It was not enough. We asked for a second one, but officials said it was really expensive. They said it cost more than HK$10,000 for one. But we kept asking.”

The residents’ persistence finally paid off and the library ordered one more magnifier.

“They also told us that if libraries in other districts were renovated, they would consider this model too,” Lau said.

The group was delighted that the ideas were mentioned in former chief executive Leung Chun-ying’s policy address last year.

Group member Mak Yuen-lin said more community-based organisations were required to push for government planning from the bottom up.

“Many people may just complain about something and then forget about it,” Mak said. “But when you are in an organised group, you have a stronger voice to reach out to district councils and officials. Discussing how to improve our facilities has now become part of our lives.”