Sports viewers around the world have been mightily impressed by the brave and dedicated disabled athletes who competed in the recent Summer Paralympics in Japan and Winter Paralympics in China, and in last month’s Invictus Games. There are also many more similar gatherings, such as the Deaflympics and the Defi sportif. These international competitions provide a great opportunity for these athletes to show what they can achieve, despite being differently abled.
But what sort of everyday lives will these dedicated youngsters be returning to, once these games conclude? This is therefore a good moment to remind ourselves of the need to offer them greater social inclusion, to promote equality, and to fight for their rights.
Spare a thought, dear reader, to what it must mean to have been born with a serious physical disability, such as blindness or a missing limb, or to be so afflicted as a result of illness or accident later in life. There are many things that we as caring individuals can do in support of our disabled brothers and sisters. And many things that our government authorities can also do to assist, to make the lives of our disabled residents more fulfilling.
Let’s start with what individual residents could do. There are many charitable institutions that work to enhance the lives of the disabled in our society. All of them stand in need of financial donations. Perhaps you could simply send a check to your selected charity, as funds are always gratefully received. Or perhaps you are in a position to organize a fundraising function for them. The late Sir David Tang Wing-cheung used to offer outings, meals, and other treats to various groups of disabled children and adults. For example, by hosting them to slap-up meals at his lovely China Club in Central, during which he would play the piano for them.
To be a volunteer with activities aiding the disabled is a hands-on way to give support. For example, by leading a horse around with a disabled rider, with the Riding for the Disabled Association. The children of blind parents often need adult help with their written homework. As that is nearly impossible for the parents, volunteers are needed as home tutors to such children. Almost any skill that you have could be put to good use, by one charity or another.
As part of working toward a more inclusive society, you could choose to befriend a disabled neighbor, to invite them to social gatherings.
Wherever you notice around Hong Kong a staircase with no handrails, you could report this to the appropriate authorities, to remedy such a lack of provision. And you could literally offer a helping hand if you notice an unsteady person boarding or alighting from public transportation.
Now we may turn to government-level support of disabled people. In many wealthy countries, registered disabled people are given a generous monthly living allowance. More could certainly be offered, here in this wealthy city.
It means a lot to a disabled person to be able to hold down a job. Sadly, many of Hong Kong’s disabled residents face a lifetime of unemployment as a result of discrimination from employers. Our civil service strives to be inclusive, and it is to its credit that places are found for many disabled residents in its workforce. Sadly, the same cannot always be said for posts in the private sector. Big employers in Hong Kong should be obliged to offer a quota of jobs to the disabled.
Often unsung are the families looking after their disabled family members. They need a break from time to time. Therefore, greater availability of temporary respite-care homes, where the disabled can be well looked after while the regular carers take a much-needed break, would be welcome.
Our public transportation is already pretty well set up to facilitate ready access, and use by the disabled and serves as an example in this to other cities. But too many modern buildings are designed complete with barriers to wheelchair-users or the lame, frail or unsteady; building regulations need to be tightened to avoid such obvious problems.
More could be done in education by having our school civics classes engender greater understanding of the needs of disabled people, including the mentally afflicted. For example, disabled people could be asked to share sessions in schools, to make the pupils more aware of the challenges faced by the disabled residents, and perhaps therefrom to become more attuned to offering support where it is needed. Such greater familiarity with the needs of the disabled could usefully lead to enhanced general empathy for the needs of others — an improvement that would produce better residents of the future.
All these measures, and more, could do much to enhance the lives of disabled people. Let’s keep their needs in mind all the time. A rich and sophisticated place like Hong Kong should be a beacon of light in such approaches, to be emulated elsewhere. As Mahatma Gandhi said: “The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.”
The author is honorary lifetime adviser to the Hong Kong Federation of the Blind.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.