More ef­fort is needed to build an in­clu­sive so­ci­ety for the ‘dif­fer­ently abled’ in the city

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - COMMENT - PA U L S U R T E E S

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.

@SAPPHIREFUNG / IN­STA­GRAM

A man ex­er­cises on a hor­i­zon­tal bar at a park in Ma On Shan.

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