Some people say reading makes a perfect man and employment helps him live a full life. There is no doubt that the ability to participate in productive activity in the job market contributes significantly to both the physical and psychological well-being of a person.
Unfortunately for the disabled, they are both constrained by a functional /structural impairment (relative to the person) and by environmental factors (relative to society), which limit their participation in the job market. It is called the “dual social disadvantage” (Fabio Corbisiero, Italian Strategies for Job Placement of Persons with Disabilities, in Tom Shakespeare , Disability Research Today: International Perspectives (NY: Routledge, 2015), p 64).
In Hong Kong, the Disability Discrimination Ordinance was enacted in 1995 to protect people from disability discrimination, victimization and harassment on the grounds of their disability. It is unlawful for an employer, in relation to employment by him at an establishment in Hong Kong, to discriminate against another person with a disability in the arrangements that the employer makes for the purpose of determining who should be offered employment. (S11(1) of the Disability Discrimination Ordinance).
Critics argue that people with disabilities (PWDs) may have difficulty in discharging the burden of proof because they need to prove that the dismissal is connected to the disability impugned. However, so long as the employee can discharge the burden showing that disability was a reason for the discriminatory treatment which he or she received, it is irrelevant that there may have been other reasons or other more substantial reasons for the discriminatory treatment (Rohan Price, The Employment Laws of Hong Kong and China).
But the Disability Discrimination Ordinance is not a piece of proactive legislation that can grease the wheels for job placement for PWDs. The biggest hurdle is the unwillingness of small and medium-sized enterprises, in particular those in the tertiary sector, to hire disabled people. Partly because of the growing emphasis on productivity and competition and partly because of the special needs of the tertiary industry, many SMEs are resistant to the integration of disabled people into their workforces.
Like Hong Kong, other developed countries are facing the same problems. In a recent report, the European Commission admits that PWDs experience considerable difficulty in finding a job in the mainstream labor market. Unemployment is disproportionately high among people with disabilities and lasts much longer than among job seekers without disabilities. PWDs are increasingly oriented toward working in a sheltered workshop (European Commission, “European Semester 2020-2021 Country Fiche on Disability Equality”, European Union). In these European countries, unemployment problems of the disabled and poverty are two sides of the same coin. In Hong Kong, disability also bears a disproportionate burden of poverty.
It’s debatable whether the government should pass new legislation to impose duties on employers to provide reasonable accommodation for disabled workers. Prior to discussing the details of the bill, the government should carefully seek the opinions of the stakeholders. The government should weigh the considerations of the stakeholders in a fair and balanced way.
Another big hurdle is environmental constraints. In the late 1990s, the Equal Opportunities Commission published a report on obstacles to PWDs in nonemployment fields in Hong Kong. The results show that many respondents required assistance or were accompanied while using public transport and some other community services and facilities (Equal Opportunities Commission, “Survey on Obstacles to Persons with Disability in Non-employment Fields in Hong Kong, 1998-1999”). The current situation remains unchanged. The lack of barrier-free facilities in some buildings and public places remains a restraint on PWDs’ opportunities for employment.
It’s also of note that some employers and co-workers may not treat disabled workers with respect. Some injured workers, who become disabled after accidents at the workplaces, are badly treated by their employers. They are unable to return to work because of the unsupportive workplace culture. Local employers like to play a passive rehabilitative role, neither encouraging the injured workers to return to work nor making any reasonable accommodation for the partially incapacitated workers. Official intervention is not the norm.
Instead of rolling out a welcome mat, these employers refuse to meet the rehabilitative needs of their injured workers and they may prefer to let the injured workers leave the workplaces (Andy Shu-kei Cheng, “Work Disability Movement”, in Kar-wai Tong & Kenneth Nai-kuen Fong (eds.), Community Care in Hong Kong (HK: City University of Hong Kong Press, 2014)). For moral reasons, employers should implement return-to-work policy by providing reasonable accommodation and modified job programs for the injured workers.
There is a growing appreciation that reasonable accommodation should be provided by employers to ensure that disabled people can exercise all human rights and fundamental freedoms on an equal basis with others, without imposing a disproportionate or undue burden on the party making the accommodation (refer to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, 2006). But deep dismay has been expressed by some employers because reasonable accommodation may mean unreasonable expenses for SMEs.
It’s debatable whether the government should pass new legislation to impose duties on employers to provide reasonable accommodation for disabled workers. Prior to discussing the details of the bill, the government should carefully seek the opinions of the stakeholders. The government should weigh the considerations of the stakeholders in a fair and balanced way. What has been the main source of worry is whether the “reasonable test” is really reasonable.
Finally, the government should consider providing more support for carers. The literature on the family and disability often concentrates on the difficulties families have to cope with when providing daily care and support for disabled family members. Because of the inadequacy of institutional care, some parents often play a central role in helping their disabled children arrive at their workplaces on time. These parents also provide other kinds of support for their disabled children. As a result, some parents become reluctant full-time carers and cannot enter the job market.
As mentioned earlier, some disabled people rely on carers to help them gain access to public transport and use other community services. From October 2023, the government will regularize the allowance for carers of elderly persons and PWDs under the Community Care Fund. The amount of subsidy will also be raised (2022 Policy Address). The kindness and support for the disabled have earned the government our gratitude.
Henry Ting is secretary-general of the Regeneration Society, and director of Poverty Alleviation & Wellness of Chinese Dream Think Tank.
Kacee Ting Wong is a barrister, a part-time researcher at Shenzhen University Hong Kong and the Macao Basic Law Research Center, and chairman of Chinese Dream Think Tank.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.
【CDTT Newspaper Article】Henry Ting & Kacee Ting：More can be done to ease ‘dual social disadvantage’ (China Daily HK Edition, 14 June 2023)
This article is reproduced by Kwun Media with the consent of China Daily.
Chinese Dream Think Tank is a non-profit Hong Kong-based organization working with skilled volunteers, experts and professionals who are passionate about telling the China story well.
有人說，書中自有追趕完人之路而就業則充實人生。毫無疑問，投入就業市場、參加生產活動能力對每一個人的身心健康都有著明顯意義。很不幸，對於行動不便群體來說，他(她)們參與就業市場的融入度受到功能或結構障礙(相對於支體而言)與環境因素(相對社會而論)的限制，此等限制被稱為「雙重社會弱勢」 (Dual Social Disadvantage)(註1)。
註 1: Fabio Corbisiero「Italian Strategies for Job Placement of Persons with Disabilities
in Tom Shakespeare「Disability Research Today: International Perspectives
New York: Routledge 2015 at p 64
註 2: 香港法例《殘疾歧視條例》第487章 第11(1)條 available at: https://www.hklii.hk/chi//hk/legis/ord/487/s11-19970701.html
註 3: Rohan Price「The Employment Laws of Hong Kong and China
Hong Kong LexisNexis 2009 at p 135
註 4: European Commission「European Semester 2020-2021 Country Fiche on Disability Equality, European Union
February 2021 at p 4; available at: https://ec.europa.eu/social/BlobServlet?docId=23952&langId=en
註 5: Equal Opportunities Commission「Survey on Obstacles to Persons with Disability in Non-employment Fields in Hong Kong
1998-1999 at p 86; Only online Executive Summary available at: https://www.eoc.org.hk/Upload/files/Research%20Papers/Eng/6%20Obstacles_E.pdf
註 6: Andy Shu-kei Cheng「Work Disability Movement
in Kar-wai Tong & Kenneth Nai-kuen Fong (eds.)「Community Care in Hong Kong
City university of Hong Kong Press 2014 at p 78
註 7: United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) available at: https://humanrights.gov.au/our-work/disability-rights/united-nations-convention-rights-persons-disabilities-uncrpd#:~:text=The%20purpose%20of%20the%20United,respect%20for%20their%20inherent%20dignity.
註 8: John Lee Ka-chiu「The Chief Executive’s 2022 Policy Address
19.10.2022 at p 44 §102; available at: https://www.policyaddress.gov.hk/2022/public/pdf/policy/policy-full_en.pdf