Coronavirus: Hong Kong’s visually impaired latest to criticise new government app mandate for public buildings

·6-min read

Visually impaired Hongkongers have become the latest group to criticise the government’s decision to make the use of its coronavirus exposure-notification app mandatory in public buildings, saying they struggle to use it without assistance.

Since Monday, residents have had to use the “Leave Home Safe” app to register their visits to all government venues, including libraries, swimming pools, offices and wet markets, as part of a recent ramping up of pandemic control measures aimed at convincing Beijing to reopen the border with the city.

Those younger than 12 or older than 65 are exempt, as are those with disabilities who cannot use the app. However, those people still have to fill out a paper form listing their name, contact information, part of their Hong Kong identity card number, and the date and time of their visit.

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But Tony Shing Li-lim, executive director of the Hong Kong Federation of the Blind, said it was “quite ridiculous” for visually impaired people to be exempted from using the app, only to then be required to fill in a form.

“The problem is that, from many of our experiences in markets and community centres, there was no staff to help us,” Shing told a radio programme on Friday.

“As you can see, the paper forms are small. The fonts are small as well. It is hard for us, even the people with amblyopia, to fill it in,” he added, using the clinical term for a lazy eye.

There are about 174,800 visually impaired people in Hong Kong, according to the government’s Census and Statistics Department.

Although blind people could change their mobile phone settings to ones designed for the visually impaired, Shing said, it was still difficult for them to use the app without help.

“There is no marking on the [QR code] paper stuck on the wall. They cannot touch the frame [of the paper],” he said. “As you can imagine, even though they can open the app, how can they scan it?”

Visually impaired people say it is difficult for them to use the now mandatory app without assistance. Photo: K. Y. Cheng
Visually impaired people say it is difficult for them to use the now mandatory app without assistance. Photo: K. Y. Cheng

Many blind people, Shing added, especially those who lived alone, could no longer go to government wet markets, and instead had to do their shopping at supermarkets, which have no such requirements on registering visits.

He suggested the government add a frame to the QR code to make it easier for the visually impaired to find and scan.

Jess Shek Kin-chong, who was born blind, said she started using the app about three months ago, because she was sick of having to ask friends or waiters in restaurants to help her fill out the paper forms. Now, however, she had to ask for help using the app, as she could not find the QR codes.

“I’m not against the use of the app, and I understand it is for pandemic control. But the government should make it clear for visually impaired people as to how they can seek assistance at venues,” said Shek, who is in her 30s and works in corporate communications.

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Billy Wong Chun-hang, president of the Hong Kong Blind Union, urged the government to add a protruding sign to the QR code so visually impaired people like him could find it with their hands.

He also called for frontline staff at venues where visits must be registered to be trained to help the visually impaired, as some in the community had complained about employees’ attitudes and communication problems arising from the situation.

“As this requirement will be a long-term measure, we need to find ways to make it easy and convenient for visually impaired people,” he said.

The visually impaired are not the only ones to have struggled with the new requirements. Advocates for the homeless and the elderly, who often either lack smartphones or have difficulty using the app, have similarly criticised the new arrangements.

But Kim Mok Kim-wing, chief executive of the Hong Kong Network for the Promotion of Inclusive Society, a non-profit organisation dedicated to the disabled, brushed off much of the criticism of the new requirements, saying visually impaired people like him preferred the app to the forms.

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“For us, the visually impaired, it is much easier to use the mobile app, while we have to rely on others to fill out the paper forms,” the 57-year-old said.

Mok said his organisation trained about 800 of its members on smartphone use, and most of them, including the visually impaired, had little difficulty with the app.

About nine in 10 already relied on smartphones in daily life, he added, though he did urge the government to provide more support for NGOs to offer such training sessions.

People with disabilities, he said, should simply try to adapt to this “new normal” for anti-pandemic purposes.

City leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said much the same when responding to criticism of the new requirements, maintaining the intent was not to make life more difficult for people, and calling on the public to accept the anti-pandemic measures in the interest of reopening the border.

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Separately, lawmaker Tommy Cheung Yu-yan, who represents the catering sector, met on Friday with officials from the Food and Health Bureau about whether they intended to phase out paper forms in restaurants and make the use of Leave Home Safe mandatory, a move some eateries have been reluctant to make amid resistance from diners.

Cheung gave no indication of the bureau’s plans, but said that such a measure would hurt business. He added that he hoped the government could relax the social-distancing rules already in place, including ones limiting operating hours, capping the number of diners per table and restricting restaurants to just partial capacity.

He also said restaurants should not be held accountable for diners using fake versions of Leave Home Safe like the one that saw five people on Monday on suspicion of using false documents.

This article Coronavirus: Hong Kong’s visually impaired latest to criticise new government app mandate for public buildings first appeared on South China Morning Post

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