> Survey of Barrier-Free Restaurants
RESULTS OF THE SURVEY ON BARRIER-FREE RESTAURANTS IN HONG KONG
Sponsored by the Labour and Welfare Bureau, we launched the Barrier-free Tourism in Hong Kong programme in 2008. Through community participation, the general public was made aware of the disabled’s needs and better understand the concept of ‘barrier-free travel’. The Barrier-Free Travel Guide was published to provide information of accessible facilities in major sightseeing spots in Hong Kong. Encouraged by the positive comments, we intend to extend the coverage to restaurants, so the disabled can dine out barrier-free. In 1984, the Buildings Department first published the Design Manual - Barrier Free Access. It specifies the design requirements of building facilities to ensure that they meet the needs of persons with a disability. The manual was updated in 1997 and 2008, the concept of universal design was introduced to better meet the disabled’s needs. The standards, however, only apply to general building facilities but not interior renovation.
Today, new restaurants provide barrier-free entrance as the law requires. But, as the interior design is not regulated, some restaurants may build stairs inside the shop while others only provide wheelchair-unfriendly fixed seating. For this reason, we submitted another fund application to the Labour and Welfare Bureau and started the Promotion of Barrier-free Restaurants programme in 2011. One of the programme’s main tasks is to study the provision of barrier-free facilities in local restaurants.
To review the provision of barrier-free facilities in local restaurants;
To fulfill the spirit of “social inclusion with disabled and able-bodied” through joint participation of the community and the disabled.
To suggest specific and constructive ways of improvement; instill the concepts of ‘barrier-free restaurant’ and ‘friendly space’ in government departments, catering groups and restaurants; and arouse their concern for the importance of barrier-free restaurants.
Definition of Barrier-Free Restaurant
Under the programme, a barrier-free restaurant is defined as an outlet which a disabled, especially wheelchair user, can enter without help from others. This includes:
a. A wheelchair-user can go to the restaurant from the main public transport interchanges (including the MTR/bus stops);
b. For restaurants inside a commercial buildings, sufficient facilities should be provided at the building’s entrance, so the wheelchair user can enter it and the restaurant inside;
c. The commercial building’s main entrance is wheelchair-accessible;
d. The restaurant has wheelchair-friendly entrance (including flat or ramped access; an entrance of sufficient width; and a door of easy use to wheelchair users);
e. The restaurant has a wheelchair-accessible main entrance;
f. The restaurant’s internal aisles allow easy passage of wheelchairs;
g. The tables are of wheelchair-friendly height, with sufficient space beneath to accommodate the wheelchair;
h. Considerable number of movable chairs should be provided, so wheelchair users can sit in front of the table for a meal;
i. A disabled washroom should be provided inside or near the restaurant; and
j. Other convenient facilities for people with a disability.
Targets of Survey
The survey mainly studied the panel-recommended restaurants included in the world-renowned Michelin Guide (2011). They include those which offer three courses at $300 or less and those which charge $100 or less. These restaurants are surveyed because we believe they are more popular. And, taking into consideration the general public’s consumption power, the middle- and low-end outlets are mainly studied.
Methods of Survey
In the period between May and August 2011, we telephoned the Michelin-introduced restaurants ((i) panel-recommended restaurants; and (ii) those which charge $100 or less) and enquired about their wheelchair-accessibility. The surveyors said electric wheelchair users would like to patronize and asked if they have steps or threshold at the entrance.
Visiting teams composed of 4 to 6 able-bodied and disabled (one of them is electric wheelchair user) were formed. Under guidance of staff with considerable relevant experience, the wheelchair-accessible restaurant visit took place from July to September 2011. The team went to the restaurants from the main public transport interchanges. Site observation was done through a meal to decide if they are suitable to wheelchair users. An electric wheelchair user was included to ensure that the restaurants are wheelchair-accessible. Besides, their personal participation could ensure that the information collected was related to their genuine needs.
Restraints on the Survey
Because most of the chosen Michelin-introduced restaurants are situated in the commercial districts on Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, such as Wan Chai, Causeway Bay and Tsim Sha Tsui, the survey results may be considerably regional and cannot fully reflect the barrier-free facilities of the restaurants in all 18 districts in Hong Kong.
Because no fast food restaurants are included in the Michelin Guide, the survey did not cover barrier-free facilities of local fast food restaurants.
Changes in Relevant Facilities
Because some restaurants may undergo frequent renovations, the information collected may be different from the reality due to restraints of time. Large-scaled renovations may cause differences in the results.
1. The Number of Accessible Restaurants
In Phase 1, we successfully contacted 78 Michelin-introduced restaurants (panel-recommended restaurants and those which charge $100 or less) and enquired about their wheelchair-accessibility. 29 (37.18% of the total restaurants surveyed) of them said they were accessible to electric wheelchair users. 1
Diagram 1: The Number of Restaurants Claimed to be Electric Wheelchair-Accessible Known in the Phase 1 Telephone Enquiry
In Phase 2, a site visit was conducted at the 29 restaurants claimed to be electronic wheelchair-accessible. It was discovered that only 20 of them were accessible, representing 25.64% of the total number of restaurants surveyed.2
9 restaurants claimed themselves to be electronic wheelchair-accessible on the telephone, but they were discovered to be the contrary in the site visit. (They represent 11.54% of the total number of restaurants surveyed.) The survey results show that at least more than 1% of the restaurant staffs do not understand the wheelchair users’ needs.
2. Reasons for Inaccessibility
The survey results show that of the 58 electronic wheelchair-inaccessible restaurants, 51 of them (87.93%) are inaccessible because stairs are provided only at the restaurant’s entrance; 3 of them (5.17%) were due to provision of stairs only at the entrances of the commercial buildings in which they situate; 3 of them (5.17%) were due to the lack of barrier-free facilities on the streets, so wheelchair users could not approach the restaurants or the buildings; 1 of them (1.72%) does have an wheelchair-friendly access but the passage to it was stacked with miscellaneous objects making it inaccessible.
Diagram 3: Reasons for Inaccessibility of Electronic Wheelchair Users
3. The Extent of Accessibility and Type of Restaurant
The survey reveals that of the 52 restaurants with a street frontage, only 1 (1.92%) is accessible to electronic wheelchair users. The situation is better for those inside the commercial buildings. Of the 26 restaurants inside commercial buildings, 19 (73.08%) are accessible to electronic wheelchair users.
Diagram 4: The Number of Restaurants with Street Frontage Accessible to Eelectronic Wheelchair Users
4. Price and Accessibility
The survey reveals that of the 33 restaurants3 which involve spending of $50 or less, only 1 (3.03%) is accessible to electronic wheelchair users. Of the 29 restaurants which involve spending from $51 to $100, 14 (48.28%) are electronic wheelchair-accessible. Of the 16 restaurants which involve spending of $101 or more, only 5 (31.25%) are electronic wheelchair-accessible. The results show that restaurants which involve spending of $50 or more are more wheelchair-accessible.
Diagram 6: Relationship between Price and Accessibility
5. Condition of Accessible Restaurants
Of the 20 restaurants accessible to electronic wheelchair users, 19 are situated in a shopping mall/commercial building. Of them, 11 (57.89%) are in a shopping mall/commercial building with wheelchair-friendly entrance. For the remaining 8 (42.11%), wheelchair users have to use the backdoor or uncommon passages.
Of the 19 shopping malls/commercial buildings, 13 (68.42%) provides passenger lift connection with the restaurant. For the remaining 6 (31.58%), wheelchair users have to use the cargo lift.
Of the 20 electronic wheelchair-accessible restaurants, 18 (90%) have a wheelchair-friendly main entrance. For the remaining 2 (10%), the backdoor has to be used.
For the interior, 6 (30%) of the 20 electronic wheelchair-accessible restaurants have aisles wide enough for wheelchair’s movement. 10 (50%) and 4 (20%) have average or narrow aisles respectively. On the other hand, all (100%) of the 20 accessible restaurants have tables with a height suitable for wheelchairs. For the seating, 15 (75%) of them provides sufficient number of movable chairs so wheelchair users can sit before the table for a meal. Another 2 (10%) and 3 (15%) provides average or few movable chairs respectively.
For the disabled washroom, 16 (80%) of the 20 electronic wheelchair-accessible restaurants have one either inside the restaurants or the shopping malls/commercial buildings in which they situate. But, 3 (18.75%) of these restaurants’ disabled washrooms (either in the restaurants or the shopping malls/commercial buildings) were locked, staff assistance had to be sought to unlock them. For another 2 (12.5%), the disabled washroom could hardly be used because miscellaneous objects were stacked either in the disabled washroom or the passage leading to it.
Suggested Ways of Improvement
For the past decades, the government has been active to develop Hong Kong into a barrier-free city. Barrier-free passages and facilities are included in renovation or improvement plans of government premises. But, the society and private business sector obviously know little about barrier-free facilities and universal design. This makes it difficult for the disabled to fully participate in community life. To improve the situation, the following ways are suggested:
1. More Education and Publicity
Despite being explained in details that electric wheelchair users cannot climb the stairs, 10% (11.54%) of the restaurant staff wrongly informed us that the wheelchair-inaccessible restaurants were accessible. As a result, electric wheelchairs users had to leave in disappointment when the restaurants were found to be inaccessible. The survey also reveals that the general public knows nothing about the needs of electric wheelchairs users. This is reflected by the restaurant staff’s kind-hearted promise that they could lift the wheelchair up the stairs not knowing that an electric wheelchair may weigh 200 lbs or more. Enhancement of public education and publicity is therefore suggested. Besides teaching the general concept of social inclusion with disabled and able-bodied, the citizens should be specifically taught the concept of barrier-free facilities and ways to help the disabled. When they know the disabled’s genuine need, they can help appropriately.
2. Strict Regulation and Regular Review of the “Design Manual”
The government updated the Design Manual in 2008 to ensure that the facilities better meet the disabled’s needs. But, the survey reveals that people with a disability still face great difficulties when dining out. More than 70% of the restaurants are inaccessible to them due to the lack of barrier-free entrance. For the accessible ones, more than 20% have narrow aisles. For the disabled washroom, it is common that either they are locked, or the washroom or the passage leading to it is stacked with miscellaneous objects.
Therefore, we suggest that the authority should formulate a system for effective regulation, law enforcement and penalty. This can ensure provision of sufficient barrier-free facilities in all new or significantly renovated restaurants/shops according to the Design Manual. The provisions of the Design Manual - Barrier Free Access should also be reviewed and updated, new ones on interior designs should be included. This can eliminate entrance step or fixed seating which makes a restaurant wheelchair-unfriendly.
3. Formulation of Policies to Help Small and Medium Shops Improve Barrier-Free Facilities
Many buildings in Hong Kong were built several decades ago when the disabled’s needs were not taken into consideration in designs, so no barrier-free facilities are provided. The survey reveals that less than 2% of the restaurants with street frontage are wheelchair-accessible. Of those which involve spending of $50 or less, only about 3% are wheelchair-accessible. It is thus very difficult for wheelchair users to find an accessible low- or medium-end restaurant; they always have to turn to the more expensive high-end ones.
For this reason, we suggest that the authority should formulate effective policies to provide financial, works and administrative support for the small and medium shops/restaurants not covered by the Building Department’s Design Manual. A timetable should also be set to ensure full implementation of barrier-free passage designs.
‘Food’ is the basic need of human survival. Being unable to dine out barrier-free means the disabled cannot fully participate in community life. It is hoped that the government would make greater efforts to promote development of barrier-free facilities in Hong Kong and arouse public concern for ‘barrier-free restaurant’ and ‘friendly space’, so that everyone (both able-bodied and disabled) has the right to participate equally and freely in community life without any barrier.
Of the 84 Michelin panel-recommended restaurants and those which charge $100 or less, we successfully contacted 78 (5 could not be contact and 1 was under renovation). The survey results are based on the 78 successfully contacted ones.
The number of Michelin-introduced restaurants included in the Barrier-free Resturant Guide (22) exceeds the survey results (20) by 2. It was because one of them was inaccessible, the other was under renovation. Therefore, another branch of the same catering group is included.
The Michelin Guide lists the price of each restaurant introduced, including set lunch, set dinner or à la carte, the lowest price applies to this survey.