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Hong Kong must ensure equal access to justice for the mentally disabled

A big public outcry erupted in Hong Kong recently over a case in which a charge of sexual assault against a former superintendent of the Bridge of Rehabilitation, a home for the mentally disabled, was dropped by the prosecution on the grounds that the victim – a 21-year-old woman with a mental age of eight – was unfit to give evidence due to post-traumatic stress.

There has been evidence that people with mental or intellectual disabilities are more likely to be subjected to sexual abuse and violence. And to get justice done, they often face more barriers than others.

Their disabilities may make it difficult for them to recall facts, describe what happened and communicate with others, and that does not include the huge psychological stress victims experience in such a situation. Others’ insensitivity, disbelief, stereotyping and dismissive attitudes are also hindering factors. In some instances, the defence takes advantage of this to challenge the credibility of the victim’s testimony.

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Dignity and rights of the persons with disabilities must be fully respected in light of court judgment on killing of autistic teenager

Two years ago, a father killed his 15-year-old autistic son by chopping him 100 times and then attempted to kill himself. He pleaded guilty to manslaughter in July.

More than 700 mitigation letters were received and the man was jailed for four years by the High Court [1]. The judge rightly pointed out that it was a tragedy from every angle. However, the sentence appeared to be light for a planned and intentional killing.

It was a case of manslaughter, yet a very sad case. The man saw his autistic son as a “burden” and thought by eliminating that burden”, family life would return to normal.

He was reportedly a responsible father and husband, suffering from severe depression due to the condition of his son.

We should consider the case with compassion and humanity, but justice should not be overlooked in the interests of the victim whose life was undeservedly taken away. Autism or disability of any sort should never be an excuse for killing.

Hopefully, the court would not have sent the wrong …

Wrongful arrest of man with autism and intellectual disability in Hong Kong

A man with autism was wrongfully arrested and detained in May (2015) in the investigation of a murder case. Irregularities, impropriety and poor efforts in rectifying the problem on the part of the force have stirred up public outrage. (EJI report; SCMP report; Autism Daily Newscast report)

People with mental and developmental disabilities are particularly vulnerable when facing the law enforcement and criminal justice system, primarily because of their learning and communication challenges and sometimes due to their restrictive and repetitive behaviour, which may seem "strange" or "suspicious".

Studies in other countries show people with neuro-disabilities - such as autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder - and those with possible-to-borderline intellectual disability are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system. Cases of mistreatment are not infrequent around the world. Some are brutal, even fatal.

Ignorance, insensitivity, a lack of…

Some new developments in the fight for equal education rights for students with disabilities/ SEN in Hong Kong

The world observed World Down Syndrome Day on March 21. The message this year was "My Opportunities, My Choices", urging us to see those with the syndrome as people first, enjoying full and equal rights.

Next up is World Autism Awareness Day, on April 2, and the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, on December 3.

These dedication days not only raise awareness of disability, but also remind us that it is but part of humanity. With or without disabilities, each individual is an equal member of society, worthy of inclusion and development.

It is all about appreciation of different abilities; provision of equal opportunities; accommodative support and adjustments.

Advancing equality requires different people to make an effort and push boundaries at all levels, small and big.

At home, some developments in the cause deserve serious attention:

First, in a judicial review earlier this month, Law Chi-yuen, a pupil of a special school for the intellectually disabled, challenged t…

Rights of the disabled are not an option

It is erroneous to divide people based on whether they have made economic contributions. It is equally wrong to conceive persons with disabilities as non-productive, and even more wrong to see them as a group asking only for favours or welfare.

If a society is to treasure freedom and openness, all its members should be respected as equals. Participation and resource distribution should be based on equality and justice, not status and favouritism.

It is true that the law sometimes defines a person's "worth" in terms of productivity or capacity. For example, in employment compensation, the person's working or earning capacity may be assessed for the purpose of compensation.

The laws may not be intended as such, but these assessments can cause social exclusion. 
A sociologist may tell you that assuming a “sick role” could mean falling into a category that is not always socially favourable. In it, a person may easily be seen as a faulty person, incomplete, undesirable or pro…

Overcoming disability bias is key to equality

The Equal Opportunities Commission has initiated a consultation exercise over the review of our discrimination law. A major area of consultation is in disability equality and rights.

The commission recognises that our Disability Discrimination Ordinance (DDO) has significantly lagged behind the global trend and fallen short of international standards since its enactment in 1996.

When talking about disability rights, the most crucial thing is to define disability.

In many common law jurisdictions, disability is set out in broad terms - impairment, malfunction or disorder. Hong Kong's DDO models its definition on Australian law, basing it on a person's traits. The definition is so broad as to include short-term illness.

Britain's Equality Act 2010, however, adopts a different approach. Disability means an impairment having substantial and long-term adverse effects on the person's ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. It defines disability in relation to particip…

The concept of reasonable adjustment is fundamental to a piece of good disability law

The prominent Oxford scientist Richard Dawkins recently issued a controversial tweet advising a woman to "abort it and try again" if she was pregnant with a baby with Down's syndrome. He said "it would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice".

The tweet caused a storm on social media, and Dawkins was forced to apologise. [See The Guardian's report.]

Even though genetics and science can reveal impairments and limitations, they aren't good predictors of life.

Recently I read a feature about Chris Burke, the celebrated American actor with Down's syndrome. I also recall another story of a talented girl with Down's syndrome, Bryann Burgess, who qualified as a music teacher after undergoing a course of study and an internship at South Carolina University. I wonder what Dawkins would say about them.

The world has a wealth of talented "disabled" people. The famous animal science professor Dr Temple Grandin, who has autism, was…