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A wheelchair user finds herself obstructed by a step at the entrance of a restaurant in Cheung Sha Wan in December 2021. Universal design would make life easier not only for people in wheelchairs but parents with prams too. Photo: Nora Tam

Letters | For a more inclusive Hong Kong, prioritise universal design

  • Readers discuss the need to make goods, services and facilities accessible to all, regardless of age, ability or status in life, and suggestions that the city ditch its US dollar peg
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Accessibility has traditionally been about removing physical barriers for people with disabilities. But as population ageing accelerates, Hong Kong needs to take a more proactive approach to ensure that goods, facilities and services are usable by everyone, regardless of age, ability or status in life.

Emphasising equitable use, flexibility and intuitiveness, universal design can help us create a city that is more adaptable to the population’s changing needs.

Take automatic doors for example. Not only are they convenient for wheelchair users, they make entering and exiting buildings effortless for different users, from parents pushing prams to workers transporting heavy goods, and even office workers on their phones.

In October last year, the Equal Opportunities Commission published a guide on universal design for the catering sector. With various practical tips and measures such as installing steps-free access and ensuring sufficient space between tables, it aims to help restaurants improve the dining experience for all customers.

However, using universal design to improve the built environment is not enough. In today’s digital age, we also need to eliminate barriers to information on screens, such as self-service kiosks, digital queuing systems and e-payment services.

It is encouraging to see that businesses in Hong Kong are starting to improve the accessibility of their digital services. During a seminar we conducted with catering industry representatives and digital accessibility experts last year, we heard that some restaurants are adopting a holistic approach to enhancing digital accessibility.

Beyond enlarging font size and using stronger colour contrast, the participants also proposed ideas to address glare on menu screens throughout the day and supplement text with images.

Our work with the catering sector is just the start. In our recent submission to the 2024-25 budget consultation, we recommended the government allocate funds to promote universal design through accessibility audits and engagement, as well as provide funding for an independent body to update current building guidelines with universal design principles.

In February, we launched the Universal Design Award Scheme to encourage wider adoption of universal design across different sectors. The scheme, which is accepting applications until April 15, will recognise innovative designs that improve usability for different communities in our society.

By making goods, services and facilities accessible to as many people as possible, universal design can help businesses expand their customer base while making our city more inclusive.

Ricky Chu Man-kin, chairperson, Equal Opportunities Commission

Not time to ditch Hong Kong’s dollar peg

It is a limitation of Hong Kong’s currency peg that it restrains the local monetary authorities from determining interest rates according to domestic needs – even when the Hong Kong economy is increasingly less synchronised with the US economy, as it is currently.
One of the latest to remind us of this is the opinion column, “Hong Kong needs to consider introducing sales tax to plug financing gaps, removing US dollar peg” (January 20).

The column goes on to suggest that Hong Kong should have switched to a flexible exchange rate system in the recent past, especially when the economy was doing well. It apparently overlooks one salient fact. Hong Kong could not have been the major capital-raising centre of mainland enterprises for the last three decades if it had not used a currency that is akin to the US dollar. What use would mainland enterprises have had for Hong Kong dollars if they could not be converted into US dollars without ado?

This is not to say that when Hong Kong adopted the currency peg in 1983, decision makers had the foresight to develop an international financial centre. The role came about more by coincidence than by design.

If Hong Kong’s international financial activities increasingly gravitate upscale, there will be some divorce between wholesale and retail elements. Then, the choice of a currency regime will revert naturally to domestic considerations. As far as I can tell, we’re not there.

George Hui, Sha Tin