Mobility ‧ Masters


Myra Tam

Different perspectives and feelings come to mind when the issue of “mobility” is raised in this compact place called “Hong Kong”.

Hong Kong is a highly mobile global city. Here, you will be able to find individuals of practically every nationality. Hongkongers themselves are highly mobile: Hong Kong ranks second in the world for the highest rate of outbound travel every year. Whether it is among friends, on Facebook or in magazines, you could easily gather abundant information about travelling. To Hongkongers, flying to Taiwan or Japan happens with a mere snap of a finger.

From a different angle, Hong Kong has only 18 districts. Getting to Aberdeen from Sheung Shui, or Siu Sai Wan from Tuen Mun, would require one to travel only 50 kilometers. Yet, many representatives of non-profit organisations often tell us how children from Tin Shui Wai rarely get the chance to attend shows and exhibitions at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre, or how underprivileged Sham Shui Po residents have never seen beyond the four walls of their subdivided units. By the looks of it, a certain group of individuals in Hong Kong possess extremely limited mobility.

Any talk of “mobility” conjures the contrasting image of persons with disabilities and limited mobility. Wheelchair users often face great challenges getting from one place to another. Hong Kong’s limited space and slender roads, paired with geographical constraints, and historical and developmental factors, mean many districts or buildings lack wheelchair accessibility—think Central, Sheung Wan, walkup building (tong lau) and Ladder Street. One seldom thinks twice about slopes that have a steeper incline or ground storey elevation outside residences and stores—but to wheelchair users, these things matter. Whether we are looking at  public transport, eateries, ground-storey stores or bathrooms, the lack of accessible design bars them from entry. Some locations are fitted with accessible entrances—but in the back entrances of such buildings, where goods are loaded. In some cases, wheelchair users have to enter restaurants through the kitchen. Buildings with elevators are always either under maintenance, or hogged by able-bodied individuals. And if you thought navigating the streets of Mong Kok on foot was hard, try doing so on wheels.

Catering to individuals with different levels of mobility is not difficult—as long as developers take their needs into account. Accessible infrastructure will benefit everyone: an additional slope or two and passenger-elevating devices could also serve an ageing population, mothers-to-be and young children. It has been said that if stairs—a human invention—had not been invented, and slopes are the only concept, one could only wonder what infrastructure would look like today.

Mobility refers to the physical ability to move, and also the movement along the different rungs of the social ladder. A number of local rehabilitation organisations have discreetly been fighting for barrier-free access and facilities—starting with the hardware— to slowly show society the needs of persons with disabilities, and the potential of artists with disabilities in hopes of increasing social acceptance and acknowledgement towards their contributions, thus raising their social mobility. The physical limitations experienced by persons with disabilities do not reflect a lack in achievement in other areas. On the contrary, such restrictions can inspire infinite possibilities. While most people would imagine photographers scaling walls and getting down on all fours for the perfect shot, photographer Kevin Cheng captures images on his wheelchair beyond your imagination.

Hong Kong radiates with flourishing energy, but take a closer look and you’ll see that mobility within society shows the world we truly live in.

Myra Tam
Executive Director,
Arts with the Disabled Association Hong Kong