Currently, Hong Kong has around 30 guide dogs available, but according to the latest calculations by the HKSEDS, Hong Kong has around 1700 people who qualify for a guide dog, and from this we can see that there is still a lot of room for increasing the number of guide dogs in our city. As there is not enough support for the training of guide dogs from puppies and the current laws do not comprehensively allow visually impaired persons to receive the help of guide dogs, therefore on May 5th Gary Chan and HKSEDS chair Raymond Cheung met with the Secretary for Labour and Welfare Mr. Stephen Siu to discuss how to make guide dogs more common in Hong Kong.
Currently local laws simply do not have a system to register guard dogs. Even though according to the Disability Discrimination Ordinance (DDO) an offence is committed if any business owner or person refuses a visually impaired person from bringing their guide dogs with them into the premises or refuses to provide facilities or services to that person, as there is no central system for registering and proving guard dogs, this leads to great difficulty in prosecuting such cases. If a person claims that their pet is a guard dog and forcibly enters a public facility and the facility cannot prove that the dog is a guard dog, this can lead to arguments that will inconvenience the public.
There have been cases where visually impaired persons with guide dogs have been requested to get off public transport. Currently, some bylaws regarding public transit (such as trams, ferries, taxis and minibuses) allow drivers or operators to have the discretion to decide whether visually impaired passengers can take public transit with their guide dogs. As there is law to protect visually impaired people and their guide dogs to take public transit, and as drivers and other passengers of public transit are not educated about this issue, the government should reform the law and also educate drivers in public transit and the general public in order to protect the rights of the visually impaired.
Within the proposals provided last year by the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) in the “Discrimination Law Review”, there was one proposal that said the government should reform the Article 10 of the Disability Discrimination Ordinance (DDO). The EOC believes that express protection from discrimination on grounds of an assistance animal should be added to the Ordinance and the definition of an “assistance animal” should be made clear. We believe that this can help visually impaired people bring their guide dogs into public facilities, and we hope that the government can take this proposal seriously.
Puppies who are being trained to be guide dogs also face problems. Currently the law does not allow for guide dog trainers, puppy raisers and the “guide puppy” to enter public facilities. Some public transit services such as bus companies and the MTR have said that they wish to accommodate “guide puppies”, but subsidiary legislation (MTR and bus by-laws) limits their space for action as no animals other than strictly guide dogs are allowed. This is hampering the realistic training of “guide puppies”. On top of this, currently public housing prohibits “guide puppies” and this hampers their training and the ability of puppy raisers to take care of them. The government should loosen its restrictions on this front.
We should look at the experience of Taiwan, which has reformed its laws in a way that we should try to learn from. Such as they provide official documentation for users of guide dogs and qualified guide dogs themselves and also for certified trainers and guide puppy raisers, that allows the public to accept guide dogs more easily. Laws are also put into effect that guide dogs cannot be harassed when they are working. In comparison with Taiwan, Hong Kong legislation so far has proven insufficient, therefore we hope that the government will work harder to promote guide dog services to the visually impaired.
We propose the government to:
1.Set up a centralized system to provide official documentation to guide dogs.
2.Reform Article 10 of the DDO according to the recommendations of the EOC.
3.The government should amend transportation bylaws to allow “guide puppies” to enter public facilities.
4.Increase education for companies and the general public about guide dogs.
5.Increase the funding provided for training guide puppies to become guide dogs.
DAB Legislative Councillor Gary Chan (7770-0829)
HKSEDS Chairperson Raymond Cheung (6010-1443)