More effort is needed to build an inclusive society for the ‘differently abled’ in the city
he central government authorities’ decision to accept applications by opposition members for Home Return Permits is to honor the promise by Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress Zhang Dejiang, made at his meeting with opposition lawmakers during his previous visit to the SAR in May.
The move carries three key messages: First, the central government acknowledges that the majority of the opposition camp love the country and the SAR and uphold the Basic Law and “One Country, Two Systems” principle, and differentiates them clearly from those who advocate Hong Kong independence. They are welcomed to visit — for sightseeing, family reunions or any other kind of exchanges — and thereby better understand the immense changes and development the country has undergone. Second, the central government’s attitude toward the opposition is not just magnanimous, it also has expectations for them — hoping that they will become a constructive force in the SAR. Third, Beijing hopes to communicate with them, and the issuance of Home Return Permits is just the beginning. The central government departments concerned will set up mechanisms for communication and exchanges with them, meaning mutual interactions and discussions will continue and become more frequent.
What has enabled the central government to implement “One Country, Two Systems” in Hong Kong is naturally a broad mind. And Hong Kong residents would love to see Beijing make such a gesture of goodwill toward the opposition. The opposition camp ought to accept the olive branch extended to them and respond in a positive manner. That way they could contribute to the venture of “One Country, Two Systems” as well as carve out some room for their own development. But it must be pointed out that the separatists are not eligible for the favorable treatment.
The central government has always attached great significance to the opinions of various sectors of society in Hong Kong. In this pluralistic society, the opposition camp does represent quite a number of residents. Beijing, in its hope to contact as wide a political spectrum as possible, would naturally value its communication with the opposition. In fact, Zhang Dejiang met with all the Hong Kong legislators while he was ruling Guangdong. He also met with opposition lawmakers while visiting Hong Kong in May, a move that apparently sat well with the local community. During the meeting, Zhang urged the opposition political groups to contact the relevant central government departments so that a dialogue could be set up. It is foreseeable that communication platforms will be established to make way for further contacts and interactions.
What is also noteworthy is that while the central government retains a tough stance against The author is vice-chairman of the Subcommittee of Foreign Affairs of CPPCC National Committee and vice-chairman of All-China Federation of Industry and Commerce. Hong Kong separatism, it will not tar the whole non-establishment camp with the same brush. It will give the “pan-democrats” and the separatists different treatment, viewing the former as mostly patriotic. As a matter of fact, Beijing has been most inclusive when dealing with issues in Hong Kong. Although the opposition, being more destructive than constructive, tends to disrespect the central government’s powers vested by the law and oppose it at every turn, and even blindly supports the separatists, Beijing has treated them with immense patience.
It is understood that the members of the opposition camp whose Home Return Permits have been invalidated fall into three categories. The first type are the opposition lawmakers. The second are members of the opposition political parties who also belong to the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China. The third are opposition members who have not applied for the permit out of political reasons. The central government authorities will only relax its entry restrictions on some of these people — the separatists who intend to split the country are of course not on the list. That is to say, anybody who does not promote Hong Kong independence could be issued the permit.
It is the general wish of Hong Kong society to see the opposition camp interact positively with Beijing. They should reign in their rebellious tendency and accept the olive branch from Beijing. They should give serious thought on how to act as the opposition but at the same time respect the country’s Constitution and bear in mind Hong Kong’s overall interests. They ought to act like what is described as the “loyal opposition” in Western society — do something good for “One Country, Two Systems” while seeking more room for their own development.
Located on the ground floor of one of those massive buildings in the new Central Government Complex at Tamar is a coffee shop with a difference, for it is entirely staffed by the “differently abled”. Overlooking Tamar Park as it does, it has both outside and inside seating, and the young staff there are very solicitous in looking after their customers. On a recent cold day there, they came around constantly to refill tea and coffee cups with fresh hot water. This is something which does not always happen at even the most posh eating establishments elsewhere.
It is one of the many very worthwhile social enterprises set up by the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals — which is justly famous for its myriad of longestablished educational, health and social services. Other branches of iBakery can be found in Kennedy Town and at the University of Hong Kong. All credit to the organizers, and to the hard-working disabled people who work there!
This enclave of inclusiveness, situated in the very heart of our government complex, offers a shining example to others in terms of giving the disabled a chance to hold a job, and thereby to enhance self-worth and dignity and to contribute to society and earn a living. Indeed, the government service of Hong Kong is one of the few large employers here offering a range of opportunities for work to our disabled citizens, and deserves much credit for taking that enlightened and inclusive approach. Many of the civil servants working at Tamar are disabled.
In many other developed economies, the regrettable but commonly found reluctance of many employers to offer jobs to the differently abled, thereby denying them a chance to show what they can do, is addressed by having a mandated quota system for employers to fulfill. All large employers are obliged
It is the general wish of Hong Kong society to see the opposition camp interact positively with Beijing. They should reign in their rebellious tendency and accept the olive branch from Beijing.”
The writer is a long-standing commentator on Hong Kong issues, university lecturer and honorary lifetime adviser to the Hong Kong Federation of the Blind.
to have a certain minimum percentage of their jobs held by disabled people. Thus, big firms have to take the trouble to actively seek ways to find work opportunities to offer to that sector of their populace who are suffering from certain degrees of mental or physical handicap.
In a kinder world, such legal requirements would not have been made legally mandatory, as jobs would automatically be offered to a diverse range of people based on merit. Experience has shown that many differently abled employees try harder at work to compensate for their shortcomings. But the sad reality is that enforcing a quota system is presently the main way that these handicapped, but just as capable, workers are not ignored. This quota system should be introduced widely in conjunction with public education on how these people can be absorbed into the workplace to the greater benefit of all.
A similarly laudable exercise in reaching out to the differently abled was reported on in this newspaper’s culture page recently (on Nov 11). The British Council’s joint effort, together with the Hong Kong government’s Leisure and Cultural Services Department, resulted in a modern take on a Shakespeare play being staged here with differently abled performers from Scotland and Hong Kong. Birds of Paradise Theatre Company from Glasgow goes the extra mile to make their production widely accessible to differently abled audiences, too. The language barrier is comprehensively addressed; the visually impaired could take a touch tour of the set; and sign language was provided for the deaf.
For this city’s disabled citizens, landing a job sadly remains but a pipe dream for most of them. But even for those fortunate enough to be able to find potential employment, if they cannot readily make the commute to work, it means nothing. I am referring here to the numerous physical barriers found all around this teeming city. These represent an insurmountable obstacle for access to many commercial and public facilities. Such obstacles as uneven walkways, staircases without handrails, stalls blocking the sidewalk, buildings without lifts, and many lampposts, trees and other impediments situated in the middle of pavements are commonly found here. All these present a barrier not only to the disabled, but also to the blind, the sick, the frail, and to the elderly among us.
Hong Kong’s world-renowned MTR service is very well geared-up to providing ready access to the disabled. Unfortunately, such effective and caring provision is not found universally in our other forms of public transport; or, indeed, in numerous other types of building here. Arranging for wider ready access for the disabled to all areas of Hong Kong is a goal worth addressing for the sake of offering inclusiveness to the whole community.
With the International Day for Persons with Disabilities being marked on Saturday (Dec 3), let us hope that a much higher proportion of Hong Kong organizations and companies will emulate the fine examples mentioned above, by facilitating access and reaching out to give more of our disabled brothers and sisters a chance to show what they can do. Doing so would go a long way toward building a more inclusive society for those who are physically or mentally challenged here in Hong Kong.
A man exercises on a horizontal bar at a park in Ma On Shan.