Tuesday, 07 October, 2014, 4:02am
News›Hong Kong
LETTER OF THE LAW

Simon TM Ng

Review of discrimination law should focus on definition of disability in move to improve rights

The Equal Opportunities Commission has initiated a consultation exercise over the review of our discrimination law. A major area of consultation is in disability equality and rights.
The commission recognises that our Disability Discrimination Ordinance (DDO) has significantly lagged behind the global trend and fallen short of international standards since its enactment in 1996.

When talking about disability rights, the most crucial thing is to define disability.
In many common law jurisdictions, disability is set out in broad terms – impairment, malfunction or disorder. Hong Kong’s DDO models its definition on Australian law, basing it on a person’s traits. The definition is so broad as to include short-term illness.
Britain’s Equality Act 2010, however, adopts a different approach. Disability means an impairment having substantial and long-term adverse effects on the person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. It defines disability in relation to participation in daily living.

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has a similar approach. Disabled people are those having “long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others”.

Modifying Hong Kong’s DDO is necessary in order to catch up with the global trend and to bring the legislation more in line with the UN convention, which the city is obliged to implement. The element of participation should be highlighted.

Disability should not be taken as a fault in itself or a state of being inferior. Nor should it be seen as the personal traits of specific categories of people. It should be conceived as a limitation or impairment found commonly in human experiences and shared by humans generally.

This concept will help us take seriously the attitudinal, environmental and systemic hindrances disabled people live with every day and to look for ways to overcome them.
The purpose of disability equality and rights is not to provide special treatment or favours in law and policy for disabled people. Instead, overcoming these hindrances and limitations is for the benefit of society and humanity.

Defining disability in relation to participation will help build a foundation to introduce the concept of reasonable adjustments that will overcome barriers and make meaningful participation possible.

Participation is essential to building identity and the development of a sense of belonging and self-ownership. It allows diversity, widens possibilities and drives a society forward, too.

Only when we overcome our biases towards disability and embrace it as a human experience may we open the possibility of a promising future of diversity and equality. Law has a role to play here.

Simon Ng is an assistant professor and senior programme director of law at the School of Professional and Continuing Education, University of Hong Kong

Source URL (modified on Oct 7th 2014, 4:02am): http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/article/1610977/overcoming-disability-bias-key-equality