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LCQ7: Assisting people with disabilities in using information and communications technology
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     Following is a question by the Hon Samson Tam Wai-ho and a written reply by the Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, Mrs Rita Lau, in the Legislative Council today (May 12):

Question:

     The Office of the Government Chief Information Officer commissioned the University of Hong Kong in 2005 to conduct a study to assess the degree of digital inclusiveness of different underprivileged groups (including persons with physical disabilities) in Hong Kong. A follow-up study was subsequently conducted in 2008, and the findings showed that there had not been much progress since 2005 in the usage of information and communications technology (ICT) among persons with physical disabilities. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) whether the authorities had, in the past two years, further conducted a comprehensive study on the usage of ICT among persons with physical disabilities; if they had, of the outcome; if not, the reasons for that;

(b) given that persons with physical disabilities have special needs in accessing information and using communications technology services, what policies and specific measures the authorities had put in place in the past two years to assist persons with restriction in body movement, seeing and hearing difficulties; and

(c) given that I have learnt that the Digital Inclusion Task Force under the Digital 21 Strategy Advisory Committee has solicited views on the needs of three categories of persons with disabilities, namely those with restriction in body movement, seeing and hearing difficulties, of the details of the views and follow-up actions?

Reply:

President,

     Regarding the questions raised by the Hon Samson Tam, my reply is as follows:

(a) The study carried out by the University of Hong Kong in 2008 was concluded in early 2009. It was the most recent study conducted by the Government on the usage of information and communications technology (ICT) by different underprivileged groups in the community including people with disabilities (PwD).

(b) The Government has adopted the following major measures to facilitate the usage of ICT by PwD íV

(i) The Social Welfare Department (SWD) has been providing IT support to the rehabilitation sector. Some 710 PCs with Internet access have been installed at various rehabilitation service units. Since 2000, around 19,200 persons with disabilities have attended IT awareness programmes.  

(ii) The SWD set up the Central Fund for Personal Computers in 1997 to assist PwD in acquiring computers for self-employment or receiving supported employment service at home. Since the inception of the Fund, a total of 21 batches of applications have been processed and a total of around $4.09 million was granted to 320 applicants.

(iii) In 2005, the Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust contributed $7.15 million for setting up the IT Scheme for people with visual impairment. The Scheme, administered by the SWD, helps organisations acquire high-performance Chinese screen readers and Braille displays at the communal access points of people with visual impairment (PVI) and subsidises individual PVI who requires IT for the purpose of studies or employment but has genuine financial difficulty. To date, a total of nine batches of applications have been processed and a total of around $3.92 million was granted to 119 individual applications and 27 organisational applications.

(iv) In 2008, the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer (OGCIO) commissioned the District Cyber Centres pilot scheme. The scheme aims to enable different underprivileged groups in the community (including the PwD) to access and use ICT through strengthening the provision of computer facilities, Internet connectivity, training and technical support to the cyber centres operated by community organisations in various districts. There are now 33 district cyber centres operated through various non-government organisations (NGOs) throughout the territory participating in this pilot scheme.

(v) The OGCIO has been actively sponsoring various community activities through the Digital Solidarity Fund of the Hong Kong Council of Social Service and different programmes of ICT professional associations to promote the ICT adoption among underprivileged groups (including the PwD), as well as the awareness among public and private websites of the design and presentation needs to address the accessibility requirements of PwD, in particular for the PVI.

(vi) In July 2009, the Government updated a set of accessibility guidelines and best practices in the design of web pages and electronic services with reference to international standards and input from the industry and disabled groups.

(c) The Digital 21 Strategy Advisory Committee (the Advisory Committee) advises the Government on the strategies and programmes facilitating the implementation of the Digital 21 Strategy, the blueprint for ICT development in Hong Kong. Helping the underprivileged groups integrate into the information world is one of the important areas under the Digital 21 Strategy. The Advisory Committee has established a Task Force on Digital Inclusion (the Task Force) under the chairmanship of the Government Chief Information Officer. The Task Force acknowledges that there are special needs among the different PwD groups in access to information and service. To better understand the use of ICT by PwD especially on their specific barriers and needs, three workshops were organised in December 2009 with community organisations and representatives of three PwD groups, namely persons with restrictions in body movement, seeing and hearing difficulties.

     PwDs faced different levels of difficulties accessing ICT using interfaces developed for able-bodied users. Assistive technologies to overcome those difficulties are available, but community as well as industry efforts are needed to widen the range of content that could be accessed using these technologies, as well as to increase the deployment of these technologies amongst PwDs.

     To take forward the above initiative, the Government will, in collaboration with relevant NGOs and Task Force members, develop an action plan to implement specific measures over the coming months, including holding a regular large scale forum to enable focused exchange of views and insights among PwD groups, the ICT related research and development sectors as well as providers of ICT products and services and of content. The forum will not only raise the awareness of the ICT needs of the PwD but also encourage different sectors to consider how the latest ICT development could be adopted in their facilities and services to facilitate the usage of the disabled.

Ends/Wednesday, May 12, 2010
Issued at HKT 16:28

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