Giving the Disabled a Helping Hand to Equality

Safeguarding intangible heritage through edutainment in China’s creative urban environments
23 September 2020
Project title: A pre- and post-test intervention design to develop a communication training model for practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM): a pilot study
28 September 2020

Giving the Disabled a Helping Hand to Equality

Principal investigator: Professor Wing LO (Department of Social and Behavioural Sciences)

Knowledge transfer is sometimes described as the “third mission” of universities, after teaching and research. Through sharing their wealth of knowledge with the community and helping to address pressing problems, higher education institutions bring about innovation and make important contributions to society.

City University of Hong Kong (CityU) has been at the forefront of knowledge transfer in the higher education sector. In 2012, the university’s College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences (CLASS) set up the Excellence in Knowledge Transfer Award to promote knowledge transfer among its academics, encouraging them to exchange ideas and explore new opportunities for research that creates value for the community. Applications are assessed on the extent of their innovation, engagement, impact and sustainability, among other criteria.

Professor Wing LO, Acting Head of the Department of Social and Behavioural Sciences and winner of this year’s Excellence in Knowledge Transfer Award, is no stranger to lending his expertise and experience for the benefit of the community. In a career spanning almost 30 years, he has been involved in the formulation of policy blueprints and government advisory work in Hong Kong, Macau, Guangzhou and Singapore, and on topics such as juvenile justice and youth crime prevention.

The project that won Lo the award, “A Ten-year Rehabilitation Programme Plan for Macau 2016-2025”, sets out to provide a comprehensive policy framework to support the integration of disabled people into society, with the ultimate aim of enabling them to enjoy the same rights and carry out the same responsibilities as able-bodied citizens. The blueprint covers a multitude of aspects varying from education, employment and community support services, to barrier-free access, accommodation and health services.

“Macau had been catching up with international standards following the return of its sovereignty to China in 1999. But services for people with disabilities remained relatively underdeveloped. The city needed experts to help design a policy and came to us,” says Lo.

The project kicked off in 2014 and was completed in 2016 when Lo and his team submitted the blueprint to the Macau government. The recommendations made have since been implemented, benefiting some 13,000 differently abled people registered with the Macau government, as well as their carers and families.

When resource allocation is at stake, people fight to maximise their gain. That’s just the way it is. What I need to do is to think of a way to include the interests of all parties without undermining the framework I have in mind

Professor Wing Lo

The project is innovative in its vision.

“While previously there were some services, they were scattered here and there and the quality varied a great deal. The policies we put forward in our project are all-encompassing and require the collaboration of different government departments,” says Lo.

Another characteristic of the project is the extent to which it engages its stakeholders.

In addition to conducting in-depth interviews with 856 physically and mentally impaired individuals to identify their needs, the team carried out 18 public consultation sessions, while organising seminars and study tours to Hong Kong and South Korea for government officials to understand more about the needs of those affected and the best practices to meet those needs. Lo and his team also paid numerous visits to officials to explain the issue at hand and listen to their views.

The programme’s impact goes beyond the benefits for people with infirmities, says Lo.

During the engagement process, the general public learnt more about the problems faced by the disabled. Changes in attitude are needed to promote a culture of respect. Finally, through implementing the programme, Macau is now on a par with international standards such as those stipulated in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and the ‘Incheon Strategy’.”

Knowledge transfer is a two-way street where academics are also expected to benefit from the process. Indeed, Lo has always enjoyed the challenge of formulating policy blueprints.

“I learn so much from these projects. When you talk to these people, you learn about their needs and frustrations. When you talk to the officials, you find out what their priorities are. You don’t come up with the recommendations just by reading up on research papers,” he says.

Lo adds that the process of engagement is always political.

“When resource allocation is at stake, people fight to maximise their gain. That’s just the way it is. What I need to do is to think of a way to include the interests of all parties without undermining the framework I have in mind. It is an art and there is a lot of wisdom in it. I like undertaking blueprint projects because many people in the community can benefit as a result. It is important that what we do is connected to our society,” says Lo.

Underlying the large-scale knowledge transfer programme is an unwavering commitment to promoting respect for those with special needs and improving the quality of their lives. It was the sense of public duty that kept Lo and his team motivated as they undertook the gigantic task of city-wide rehabilitation planning.

“It is very sad to see the way these people are treated. They occupy the lowest rung of the social ladder. I hope that more people will accept them. Do not discriminate against them or bully them,” says Lo.

To learn more about this project, click here.