CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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Barrier-free religious premises urged for the physically-disadvantaged

HONG KONG (SE): The Hong Kong Federation of Handicapped Youth urged religious organisations to show concern for the needs of the physically-disadvantaged people by providing proper facilities for them.
In a press conference at its head office at Wang Tau Hom Estate on February 26, it released a Barrier-Free Religion Guide in cooperation with the Labour and Welfare Bureau, giving detailed information on what facilities are to be provided in different religious premises.
The group sent wheelchair users to check 30 premises run by the different religions in Hong Kong between May and November last year and discovered that many of them are not user-friendly for the physically-disadvantaged, with staircases, steep entrances or exits, lack of signage and locked toilets for the disabled, which in some cases are even used as storerooms. 
The group pointed out that the wheelchair users found it necessary to ask friends to accompany them to such places and ask for directions from the staff to ensure their safety.
The survey report suggested a movable ramp be installed at door thresholds, while elevators or stair climbers for wheelchairs be installed, especially in areas with steep slopes.
Sophie So Wing-ni, the policy advocacy executive of the federation, said there should be clear signage for wheelchair users indicating entrances and exits as well as the way to toilets, as they may go the wrong way before finding a staff member to make enquiries. She said that in some cases, finding a way to enter or exit can take more than 15 minutes. 
David Lau Ka-lun, executive director of the federation, said he hopes that the guide can help people realise that physically-disadvantaged people also fulfill their spiritual needs in religious premises so services provided by government or non-government organisations should not only focus on fulfilling their basic necessities. He urged the government to allocate more resources to help religious organisations to improve their facilities.
Lau said he understands that many religious buildings have a long history and some of them are even grade I or II historic buildings. He said the government should seek professional opinions in such cases to help religious organisations to provide barrier-free facilities. 
He believes historic religious buildings in Singapore, Japan and Taiwan can serve as examples showing how the original historical architecture can be preserved while addressing the needs of the physically challenged.

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