Chapter 2: Rights-based guiding principles

This chapter outlines several essential rights-based guiding principles and the significance of cultivating an inclusive culture at higher education institutions. It actualizes basic human rights entitled to people with disabilities as protected by international conventions and domestic law.

2.1 Co-creating an inclusive culture

2.1.1. Eliminating ableism and embracing diversity

  • Ableism is broadly conceptualized as the traditional and compulsory preference for “healthy” body states (not having any impairments) that is considered to be normative in the society, along with a wide range of stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination against people with disabilities who are considered to be “abnormal” as a deviation from the norm (Friedman & Owen, 2017).
  • It reinforces the medical model of disabilities which emphasizes the “abnormality”, the low expectations and the lack of autonomy of people with disabilities.
  • Their human rights and accessibility needs are culturally ignored. We should eliminate ableism through holistic and systemic changes.
  • The cultural norm should shift from the being and doing things “normally” by all people to the “normality of being and doing things differently by each individual” (Hansen & Philo, 2007). We should respect and embrace the inherent diversity regarding the intersectionality of wide range of personal characteristics.
  • The types and extent of the accessibility needs of each student with disabilities are unique. Their needs may vary under different contexts and are not solely defined by the type of their disabilities nor their personal identity. The accommodations should be flexible and responsive to the individual needs of students with disabilities.

2.1.2. Adopting social model of disabilities

  • People are disabled as a result of the product of external environmental and attitudinal barriers a person encounters instead of the “problems” or “abnormality” with the person.
  • Barriers can be eliminated to promote more welcoming and inclusive participation of people with disabilities.
  • We should recognize the responsibility of our society to remove barriers that disable the life of people with disabilities and to establish accessibility to create equal opportunities and choices for people with disabilities. It leads to inclusion.

2.1.3. Inclusion and Accessibility

  • An inclusive campus is an accessible campus where the presence of inherent diversity among university members with disabilities is respected and valued.
  • Accessibility ensures people with disabilities access to the environment, information, and services on an equal basis with others. It is one of the conditions of an inclusive campus.
  • Accessibility is not merely a checklist of fixed types of support services, physical designs or personalized accommodations, but an all-rounded value system that cultivates an inclusive culture of the university.
    • Organizational and systemic reform is necessary and significant.
    • There can be an infinite number of types of accessibility arrangements and ways of providing such services.

2.1.4. Shared responsibility and whole university approach

  • All university members should contribute to cultivating an inclusive culture in the university where diversity is respected.
  • The provision and the quality of accessibility services and accommodations is a shared rights and responsibility of all university members.
  • University members advocate to:
    • mainstream disability and accessibility issues in the culture, policies, functioning, and curriculum of the university
    • see staff and students with disabilities as contributing university members, not as a burden
    • recognize the responsibility of the university for inclusion, accessibility provision, and support of staff and students with disabilities
    • foster inclusive culture by promoting mutual support, help, respect regardless of the disability status to cater for the inherent diversity of university members.
  • The process of co-creating an inclusive culture is an ongoing process. Communication, perspectives, and views from all university members are mutually and highly valued, respected, and taken into consideration throughout the process.

2.1.5. Consultation with students and staff with disabilities

  • There should be well-organized consultation and involvement with university members with disabilities on an ongoing basis about inclusion within the campus.
  • People with disabilities are the expert of their accessibility needs. We should not make any decisions on behalf of them. Instead, we should always work out the required and reasonable accessibility support and accommodations with the students or staff with disability concerned and respect individual needs and diversity.

2.1.6. Endorsing rights-based accessibility provision

  • Accessibility provision has long been regarded as philanthropy and patronizing benevolence. It reinforces the charity model of disabilities and suggests that people with disabilities are victims in need of pity. Beneficiary gratitude of people with disabilities is expected.
  • We often expect people with disabilities to adapt themselves to the barriers encountered in the environment.
  • However, accessibility is indeed a facet of basic human rights entitled to everyone including people with disabilities.
  • We should avoid the misuse of the “love and caring ” approach and the unequal basis of helping behavior.
  • Accessibility is a human right guaranteed internationally and domestically, so are under an obligation to provide accessibility service.

2.2 United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

2.2.1. Introduction

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) protects basic human rights of people with disabilities and ensures efforts in eliminating barriers for all individuals on an equal moral basis. The CRPD has entered into force for the People’s Republic of China, including the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region in 2008. Higher education institutions should be committed to foster an accessible and inclusive teaching and learning environment.

Although all the Articles are interrelated and equally important, the following Articles are particularly relevant to the significance of promoting inclusive practices at higher education institutions. For the purpose of the Guidelines, there are eleven Articles from the Convention which are found to be directly relevant, with two General Comments (No.2 and No.4) by the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which provide further elaborations on two specific Articles (9 and 24) and are helpful in the proper understanding of the provisions. Each of the provision covers a domain or area of concern and provides a moral compass for governments, civil societies, organizations and individuals in the practical work of advancing disability inclusion. These provisions and General Comments are listed below. Refer to the full texts for details.

Article 3 – General principles

  • Respect for inherent dignity, individual autonomy including the freedom to make one’s own choices, and independence of persons;
  • Non-discrimination;
  • Full and effective participation and inclusion in society;
  • Respect for difference and acceptance of persons with disabilities as part of human diversity and humanity;
  • Equality of opportunity;
  • Accessibility;
  • Equality between men and women;
  • Respect for the evolving capacities of children with disabilities and respect for the right of children with disabilities to preserve their identities.

Article 5 – Equality and non-discrimination

Article 8 – Awareness-raising

Article 9 – Accessibility

CRPD General Comment No.2 on Article 9: Accessibility

Article 11 – Situations of risk and humanitarian emergencies

Article 19 – Living independently and being included in the community

Article 21 – Freedom of expression and opinion, and access to information

Article 24 – Education

CRPD General Comment No.4 on Article 24: Right to inclusive education

Article 27 – Work and employment

Article 29 – Participation in political and public life

Article 30 – Participation of cultural life, recreation, leisure and sport

2.3 Disability Discrimination Ordinance

2.3.1. Introduction

  • The Disability Discrimination Ordinance (Cap. 487) (DDO) came into operation in Hong Kong in 1996.
  • The DDO protects people with disabilities against discrimination on the grounds of disabilities. The Ordinance also protects the associates and caregivers of the person with a disability, as well as the interpreters, readers, assistants who provide accessibility services because of the person’ s disability.
  • The DDO has laid down equal opportunity in education for people with disabilities in Hong Kong. The Code of Practice on Education under the DDO, prepared by Equal Opportunities Commission, offers practical guidelines to the educational institutions, staff, and students on what act in relation to teaching and learning activities might be discriminatory.

2.4 Reasonable accommodation and Unjustifiable hardship

2.4.1. Definitions

There is an obligation for an educational establishment to provide reasonable accommodation for students with disabilities, unless such provision imposes unjustifiable hardship. Such obligation has been recognized in the Code of  Practice on Education (“The Code”) issued by the Equal Opportunities Commission inaccordance with the Disability Discrimination Ordinance (Cap. 487) (DDO). Quoted from the Section 12.2.1 of The Code, it states that,

Accommodations are measures or actions taken in order to provide equal opportunities for students with disabilities, such as the provision of aids, facilities or services to meet his or her individual needs. A detailed assessment may be required in order to determine what accommodations are necessary and each case needs to be considered with regard to its own circumstances.”

According to the Disability Discrimination Ordinance (Cap. 487) (DDO), “unjustifiable hardship” that an accommodation may bring about is determined by four main factors, as directly quoted from the Disability Discrimination Ordinance (Cap. 487) (DDO):

  1. the reasonableness of any accommodation to be made available to a person with a disability;
  2. the nature of the benefit or detriment likely to accrue or be suffered by any persons concerned;
  3. the effect of the disability of a person concerned; and
  4. the financial circumstances of and the estimated amount of expenditure (including recurrent expenditure) required to be made by the person claiming unjustifiable hardship.

2.5 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

2.5.1. Definitions

The University is committed to actualizing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),which are blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future. The SDGs 4, 10, 11, and 16 are particularly relevant to the higher education institutions’ commitment to accessible and inclusive teaching and learning experience.

Some relevant targets of the four related SDGs are quoted from the United Nations websites. Refer to the cited references for details.

  • SDG 4: Quality education
    • Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.
    • Ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and children in vulnerable situations.
    • Build and upgrade education facilities that are child, disability and gender sensitive and provide safe, nonviolent, inclusive and effective learning environments for all.
  • SDG 10: Reduced inequalities
    • Reducing inequalities and ensuring no one is left behind.
    • Empower and promote the social, economic and political inclusion of all, irrespective of age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion or economic or other status.
  • SDG 11: Sustainable cities and communities
    • Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.
    • Provide access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all.
    • Provide universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces.
  • SDG 16: Peace, justice and strong institutions
    • Promote just, peaceful and inclusive societies
    • Ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels.
    • Promote and enforce non-discriminatory laws and policies for sustainable development.

2.6 Universal design for teaching and learning

2.6.1. Definitions

  • Universal design for teaching and learning (UDL) maximizes equal opportunities of students with disabilities and the effectiveness of teaching and learning to cater for the inherently diverse characteristics and needs of all learners.
  • UDL emphasizes that there is no single means of engagement, representation, or expression that will be optimal for all learners. It is important to provide multiple means, options and autonomy for all learners to accommodate inherent diversity in individual characteristics and needs.
  • The same content can be presented in different ways to accommodate individual needs to facilitate learners to perceive and comprehend effectively. For example,
    • Some students with visual impairment may require the printed text-based content to be converted and presented as Braille for reading.
    • Deaf and hard-of-hearing learners require sign language interpretation to captioning to understand the audio content.
  • Learners are encouraged to express their ideas and take part in learning activities by different means by taking their individual needs and characteristics into account. For example,
    • During the class, instead of raising up hands, some learners with mobility disability may take part in class activities by using electronic devices to raise their questions or write their answers in response to the instructors’ questions.
    • Some learners with learning difficulties may verbally express their ideas instead of writing their answers in words.
  • The provision of an accessible campus environment, and teaching and learning materials, serves as an essential context for UDL to occur effectively.

2.7 As a context of whole-person development

  • Educational aims of the universities emphasize students’ whole-person development, self-exploration and actualization of students’ own interest, potential and pursuit.
  • We should respect students’ self-determination and decision-making. We should not limit their choices and opportunities based on their disability status.
  • Whole-person development emphasizes the progressive process of the holistic enhancement of multidimensional capacities, i.e. attitude, performance, and potential of learners. It covers the intellectual, physical, professional, psychological, social and spiritual dimensions.
  • It essentially requires an accessible campus and UDL approaches so students with disabilities can truly enjoy engaging in wide range of academic and non-academic activities for actualizing their potential, aspiration, and whole-person development.

2.8 As a context of positive wellbeing

Establishing accessible teaching and learning environment can:

  • foster an accepting culture that embraces diversity.
  • promotes self-acceptance, autonomy, and social interactions that enhance the well-being of university members with disabilities.
  • minimize the potential burden, tension and negotiation between university members with and without disabilities. It can in turn minimize acute and chronic stress triggered by recurrent negotiation.