Urban planning

Amputee, 70, finally conquers 200 steps to remember dead brother, and sheds light on plight of less mobile Hongkongers

Stair machine operated by local NGO is helping the elderly and disabled get to city’s hard-to-reach locations

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 09 October, 2018, 7:08pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 09 October, 2018, 9:44pm

Lee Sau-yee, a 70-year-old amputee, on Tuesday went to a cemetery to pay his respects for the first time since his elder brother died from throat cancer a decade ago.

Lee had long wanted to do so, but was prevented by 200 steps leading up to his brother’s resting place at Chai Wan Chinese Permanent Cemetery.

It was a dream come true for Lee to finally climb the hill on Hong Kong Island. The feat was made possible with the help of a stair machine and two technicians from St James’ Settlement Continuing Care.

“I am finally here to see you, it’s been so long, my brother,” Lee said after conquering the slope. “I am doing well, in good health and living a happy, stress-free life.”

The NGO began offering assistance in April to elderly, physically disabled or impaired Hongkongers needing help with staircases across Hong Kong Island.

The service has so far helped more than 1,000 people, at HK$10 (US$1.30) per trip.

“Destinations range from medical appointments to church gatherings,” said Lanly Yeung Wai-lan, coordinator of the operation.

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And as the annual Chung Yeung Festival gets closer, when Hongkongers traditionally journey to the resting places of deceased loved ones, demand for help at cemeteries and columbariums is expected to grow.

Those in need can call to book three days ahead.

Lee, who lost his right leg 20 years ago, on Tuesday covered the four flights of stairs at the Chai Wan cemetery within 15 minutes.

The machine is built like a wheelchair and uses a pedrail wheel system. It tipped Lee back lightly as it took him up the stairs. Small feet attached to the wheel of the chair ensure it remains level as the device moves over each step.

On reaching the top, Lee could hardly hold back his emotion.

My brother and I went through everything ... A part of me has been missing since his death
Lee Sau-yee, 70

“Please continue to bless me with happiness and peace until we meet again,” Lee told his brother as he stared at his picture, eyes filled with tears.

“My brother and I went through everything. We grew up in an orphanage together – each other was all we had. A part of me has been missing since his death, and it tears me apart not being able to come to pay my respects.”

After more than an hour at the top, Lee took three bows and yelled: “I have got to go now, but I promise I will come visit at least once a year.

“I hope we can still be brothers in my next life.”

Lee’s case sheds light on how inaccessible much of Hong Kong is for the elderly and disabled, according to lawmaker Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung.

The city’s outdated buildings laws were to blame, he said.

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“It’s been 10 years since the Buildings Department’s design manual for barrier-free access – which lists rules and guidelines for architects – was last revised. It’s time for an update,” Cheung said.

Many public places and buildings owned by the government were not even covered by the law, he added.

“Very often, these places are not barrier-free. They kind of rise above the laws.

“Ideally, even where it’s just two steps, there should be a ramp or a stair machine to provide access for the disabled.”