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Speech by CS at opening ceremony of World Blind Union - Asia Pacific Mid-Term Regional General Assembly 2014 (English only) (with photos/video)

     Following is the speech by the Chief Secretary for Administration, Mrs Carrie Lam, at the opening ceremony of World Blind Union - Asia Pacific Mid-Term Regional General Assembly 2014 this morning (November 22):

Mr (Arnt) Holte (President of World Blind Union), Ms (Michiko) Tabata (Chairperson of World Blind Union - Asia Pacific), (Mr Chong) Chan-yau (Chairman of the Organising Committee), distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

     Good morning. On behalf of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) Government, I would like to extend a very warm welcome to all of you, especially to those from overseas, who join us today at the World Blind Union - Asia Pacific Mid-Term Regional General Assembly 2014.

     I would also like to take this opportunity to congratulate the Hong Kong Blind Union for hosting this Regional General Assembly. To be very honest with you, amongst the various non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Hong Kong, the Hong Kong Blind Union is relatively small. So, to host a regional conference of this scale is no easy task for the Blind Union. So, let us give them a big applause.

     The World Blind Union is an internationally recognised organisation representing 285 million persons with visual impairment in 190 member countries. Convened once every four years, the World Blind Union - Asia Pacific Mid-Term Regional General Assembly is a signature event in the international rehabilitation arena with the aim to providing a platform for participants from over 20 countries in the Asia Pacific region to exchange information, knowledge and experience in promoting integration of visually impaired persons into the community. The staging of this prestigious Regional General Assembly here is a vote of confidence in Hong Kong as a city friendly to persons with disabilities.

     In fact, over the past several decades, the HKSAR Government has been sparing no effort in ensuring the well-being of persons with disabilities, including the visually impaired, in different aspects of life. We endeavor to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity. These are also the spirit and core values enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which has entered into force for the HKSAR since 2008.

     The HKSAR Government is committed to building a barrier-free living environment for persons with disabilities and enabling them to access, on an equal basis with others, premises and services, thereby facilitating them to live independently and confidently, gain employment and participate fully in various social activities. I wish to take this opportunity to highlight some of the policies that we have implemented in relation to persons with visual impairment.

Physical Environment

     We want to enable persons with visual impairment to freely and safely move around our community. In terms of building design, tactile guide path leading from the entrance of a building to the information counter, and from the counter to major circulation route, lift zone or major staircase, are now a must in new shopping complexes, schools, recreational buildings and hospitals. Directory maps should also be accessible to the visually impaired. We also consult persons with disabilities when designing the accessibility features of major public infrastructures, such as the recently opened Kai Tak Cruise Terminal. And as the Chairman of the West Kowloon Cultural District (WKCD) Authority, I will ensure that we do the same for all the performance and arts venues in the WKCD. In addition, at the beginning of this term, the HKSAR Government launched a new policy on "Universal Accessibility" which aims at further enhancing the barrier-free facilities for existing public walkways by adopting a standard beyond the statutory requirements wherever practicable with reference to a set of universal accessibility provisions.

     To accelerate the process of improving the accessibility of existing government premises, public housing and connecting road facilities, the HKSAR Government implemented a comprehensive retrofitting programme to upgrade the barrier-free facilities to the latest design standard. This programme, costing HK$1.3 billion, covers about 3 500 government premises or facilities and 240 housing estates. All items under the prescribed scope of works, I am happy to report, had been completed by June 2014.

     And on the achievement of this programme, I want to particularly thank two persons in the audience. First of all is the Chairman of the Equal Opportunities Commission (Dr York Chow) for coming up with the recommendation or the instruction that the HKSAR Government should do better in this respect. And the second person is the current Under Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Stephen (Sui), who before taking up this political position was the Commissioner for Rehabilitation. And he used to oversee this programme and send me progress reports from time to time.

     By leading the way in providing barrier-free facilities in public development projects, we hope to lead by example and influence the private sector. Legislation governing the provision of barrier-free access is also in place to ensure the accessibility of private buildings. We will continue to keep the legislative and administrative measures under regular review to enhance the accessibility of premises, road and public transport facilities in light of social development and advancement in technology.

Public Transport

     We recognise the importance of accessible public transport service to persons with disabilities including the visually impaired. The Transport Department of the HKSAR Government has published a Guide to Public Transport for People with Disability to help disabled persons plan their journeys. Efforts have also been made by the public transport operators in improving the facilities. Facilities in the mass transit railway network designed for persons with visual impairment include escalators and Octopus readers with audible signals, tactile guide paths as well as high contrast signs in stations. All franchised buses are now equipped with Bus Stop Announcement System to provide accurate trilingual bus stop information along the bus journey. Braille vehicle registration number plates are installed inside the compartments of buses, taxies and public light buses. All these aim to allow persons with visual impairment to use the public transport services with ease and convenience.

Digital Inclusion

     In this digital era, many enterprises and organisations have set up websites to disseminate information and provide convenient online services. Apart from improving the accessibility of the physical environment, the HKSAR Government has also been implementing a comprehensive digital inclusion programme to help needy groups adopt information and communication technology in their daily lives and leverage technology advancement to enhance their quality of life as well as to integrate into the information society.

     To facilitate access to online information and services by everyone including persons with visual impairment, a Web Accessibility Campaign has been implemented since 2011 to drive the adoption of accessibility design in the public and private sectors. To set an example, government websites are required to conform to Level AA of the latest version of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines promulgated by the World Wide Web Consortium. This makes the HKSAR Government one of the earliest to implement the latest standard. At the same time, we have also launched various funding schemes to support the development of assistive tools and mobile apps for the needy groups including persons with visual impairment.


     Employment is the key to self-confidence and self-reliance. The HKSAR Government is thus committed to assisting persons with disabilities in attaining employment to enhance their abilities, develop their talents and potential, and ensure that they have equal access to participation in productive and gainful employment in the open market. Subsidies are provided for employers to provide training and support for employees with disabilities. They are also encouraged to procure assistive rehabilitation devices and workplace modifications to facilitate the work of employees with disabilities and to enhance their work efficiency. During my tenure as the Director of Social Welfare, we pioneered the application of social enterprises in providing more employment opportunities for persons with disabilities. Under the "Enhancing Employment of People with Disabilities through Small Enterprise Project", seed money is provided to NGOs for running small business aiming at providing jobs for people with disabilities.

     These are only some of the initiatives the HKSAR Government has taken to support the visually impaired persons in our society. I am glad that the Regional General Assembly provides a valuable opportunity for us to learn more from the experience of our counterparts in other countries in promoting the well-being and rights of persons with visual impairment. In addition to workshops and symposiums for participants to develop solutions to problems faced by blind persons in the region, I understand that an exhibition on latest technical aids for visually impaired persons will also be staged. I am sure that the event will be able to connect interest parties to work together in the development of innovative solutions and assistive devices to cater for the needs of the visually impaired.

     We all believe that it is only through concerted efforts that Hong Kong can become a truly accessible and barrier-free city. The HKSAR Government will continue to engage the local community so that people from different sectors can work together in the building of a caring, inclusive and equal society that embraces the rights and equal opportunities of all persons with disabilities.

     Last but not the least, let me congratulate the Hong Kong Blind Union and the Hong Kong Society for the Blind most warmly on hosting this important event. I wish all of you a very rewarding experience and an enjoyable stay in our vibrant city.

     Thank you very much.

Ends/Saturday, November 22, 2014
Issued at HKT 12:19


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