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Rolling in Asia’s World City: Hong Kong

A wheelchair vs. millions of people

A wheelchair vs. millions of people

Hong Kong – Asia’s World City – my home city.

Imagine rolling through areas like this in Hong Kong. (Source: Discover Hong Kong website)

Each year Hong Kong is visited by millions of global tourists. Only in 2017, there were over 14 million visitor arrivals from overseas, which is about 6 million more than the population of Switzerland.

That’s not all. Hong Kong’s population was approximately 7.34 million in 2016, with a population density of 6780 people per square kilometer!

Now you may wonder how one can get around in this densely populated city, especially in a wheelchair? “Coconuts”, an online media publisher in Asia, has interviewed three wheelchair users (one expat, one local and one tourist) about their experiences in Hong Kong. Here are their stories: “Life Rolls on: The Ups and Downs of Navigating Hong Kong in a Wheelchair”.

Challenge for people in wheelchair: a small step at the entrance of many buildings in Hong Kong to prevent flooding. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Although I’m not a wheelchair user, their experiences actually resonate with me. For example, I remember I often had problems with the small step at the entrance of many buildings and shop fronts in Hong Kong. I tripped over that small step numerous times and was really annoyed. I can imagine how frustrating it can be for wheelchair users if there’s no ramp to access a building of the city.

Another experience shared which actually surprised me is disabled parking. One of the interviewees has pointed out his struggle of using disabled parking facilities. In Hong Kong, the majority of disabled parking lots is reserved for disabled drivers rather than disabled passengers. Which one would you find more annoying – given no right to use a disabled parking lot or explain every time when you use one as a disabled passenger?

While some may not feel comfortable explaining their situation all the time, one interviewee actually preferred calling ahead to the building to inform others his special need of accessibility. He shared,

“Why do I call? Because I think it’s a personal touch. My idea is to build relationships with people; to let them understand what help I need and to really emphasize how much I appreciate their help. I believe that makes a difference, because those people that I interact with will remember me and may help me or someone like me again in the future. A smile goes a long way.”

Love Ho, a retired bookstore owner in wheelchair

Like another interviewee shared, “nowhere is truly wheelchair accessible. Cities and towns around the world are built for able-bodied residents and visitors.” While it takes time to develop and improve accessibility for everyone, “personal touch” can help us move beyond barriers.

So don’t let the number of population scare you! Hong Kong may not be the most wheelchair-accessible city in the world, but most residents are friendly and eager to help. With some personal touch, you’ll be able to enjoy this Asia’s world city like all other tourists.

Check out the following quick guides for your next trip to my home city known as “Pearl of the Orient”:smileywink: :

Online barrier-free guides

With the support of Hong Kong’s Labour and Welfare Bureau, Hong Kong Federation of Handicapped Youth has developed three barrier-free information websites. Two of them should not be missed by tourists.

Barrier-free travel guide and restaurant guide dedicated to people with mobility challenges.

The first one is Barrier-Free Travel Guide. This website introduces four attraction categories, namely sightseeing line, leisure line, ecology line and cultural discovering line. These categories cover 28 accessible sightseeing routes across Hong Kong. Tips are given for spots which require early and special preparation for barrier-free travel.

The second one is Barrier-Free Restaurant Guide. Did you know there are over 10,000 restaurants serving in Hong Kong? This restaurant guide has highlighted 22 Michelin Guide recommended restaurants and some other restaurants where you can experience the true food culture of Hong Kong. They are all wheelchair-friendly.

In addition, you may consider downloading their “Barrier-Free Travel Guide” app. The app allows you to find accessible toilets, car parks or tourist spots nearby in the whole Hong Kong.

Guide to the food paradise

Hong Kong is fast-changing. The Barrier-Free Restaurant Guide above, which was established in 2011, may not cover the latest restaurants. No worries! Check out the Open Rice website.

The Open Rice website is a well-established and popular food and restaurant online guide operating for several Asian countries and cities including Hong Kong. With the advanced search function, you will be able to find restaurants with accessible environment. Detailed restaurant information is also provided on the website so that you can call ahead to your choice of restaurant to discuss and make special arrangements if needed.

Wheelchair-accessible public transportation

Hong Kong is well-connected by public transport network. Unfortunately, not all public transport in Hong Kong is wheelchair-friendly. The wheelchair-accessible ones are the following:

MTR: extensive railway network serving most parts of Hong Kong. (Source: MTR website)

1. MTR: stands for “Mass Transit Railway”. It incorporates more than 10 underground and light rail lines operating in most parts of Hong Kong. Their official app MTR Mobile has multiple features including a “Barrier-free” function, which allows you to check the accessible facilities available at each MTR station. It also has a “Tourist Info” function offering a wide coverage of tourist attraction guides. One can easily plan their journey through Hong Kong solely with this app!

2. Bus: bus services in Hong Kong are mainly operated by two privately owned bus companies The Kowloon Motor Bus (KMB) and New World First Bus (or better known as “City Bus”). Although not all buses are wheelchair-accessible, an accessible bus with reserved space for disabled passengers is normally in service alternately.

APP 1933 – KMB/LWB, the KMB’s official app, provides information on their bus services including wheelchair-accessible information on the next buses. With the GPS function on your phone, you may activate the app’s “alight reminder” function during your bus ride so that you will not miss your destination stop.

City Bus operates also numerous tourist routes. You may find the information from their CitybusNWFB app.

Cruising across Victoria Harbour by ferry. (Source: Discover Hong Kong website)

3. Ferry: especially the Star Ferry, which operates across Victoria Harbour, is one of the cheapest ways to have an upfront look of the scenic harbour view – a major tourist attraction in Hong Kong. Ferries are accessible by wheelchairs but the wooden ramps used for boarding could be tricky if you do not have a well-motorized wheelchair. It’d be better to ask for help before boarding.

Diamond Cab with powered boarding ramp can carry up to 200 kilos of wheelchairs and passengers. (Source: Diamond Cab Facebook page)

4. Taxi: they are categorized by three colors (red, green and blue) and all with a different fare scheme and operating areas. Taking off with a right color taxi is important, so always inform the taxi driver of your destination before you get on.

For passengers with folding wheelchairs, nearly all Hong Kong taxis are accessible to you. For others, Diamond Cab offers a limited number of wheelchair accessible taxis with wheelchair ramps. Since the number of Diamond Cabs is very limited, reservation in advance is highly recommended.

How helpful do you find “personal touch” while travelling around? Can you imagine visiting a place when accessibility is a challenge?

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