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Equal opportunities for all

Published on Friday, 25 Jun 2010
The British Council’s access audit gives the thumbs up to a toilet suitable for the disabled.
A high bench got the thumbs down before being lowered to a height suitable for wheelchair users.

The central pillar that stands in the main foyer of the British Council building in Admiralty showcases the nationalities and abilities of people with whom the organisation works - one of many examples of its efforts to promote diversity.

The pillar design has been made into posters that are displayed in public areas and classrooms to remind students and visitors of the differences they can expect from the council. This initiative is one of the projects among cultural organisations in Hong Kong to promote diversity.

"Our publicity materials for English courses capture moments of different people working together," says Grant Butler, acting director for English learning services. "We try to break the stereotype that only women can teach young learners by showing pictures of male teachers teaching children. We also have photos of mature students to show that people of any age can continue to learn."

The council walks the talk of diversity. It offers courses to show staff how to incorporate elements of equal opportunities into performance management and recruitment, provides a "toolkit" to help them put together workshops, and supports internships for the disabled.

The council's director, Peter Upton, says diversity matters not only because it respects and recognises the skills of each individual, but also because it makes business sense. Embedding diversity into an organisation helps liberate talent, support innovation and create a motivated workforce.

"We ensure that diversity is built into all processes and functions, is considered as part of all policy decisions and present in the planning of all programmes from start to finish. This is what we mean by mainstreaming diversity," he says.

In 2008, together with non-profit group Hong Kong Rehabilitation Power, the council conducted an access audit to gauge the accessibility of its premises to the disabled. The initiative included a session on taking care of people with disabilities, and involved British Council staff taking a route to the organisation's building - in a wheelchair or blindfolded - to experience what it was like. They measured entrances, doorways and counter heights.

Andrew Sheard, the council's regional director for human resources, says steps have since been taken to make the building more accessible. "We have lowered the height of the computer bench in the main lobby, and installed Braille and tactile markings on the lift button panel, and a verbal announcement system at the entrance and inside lift cars." Stereotyping is one of the difficulties in promoting diversity, Sheard says. "Helping people of different nationalities, ages, agendas and abilities understand each other and see things from each other's perspective is the biggest challenge."


Reaching out  

  • Invited the English National Ballet to Hong Kong to organise workshops for the mentally disabled and their trainers in February
  • Teachers at the British Council have been involved in English classes for refugees and asylum seekers
  • A handbook for English teachers has been re-edited and published locally to give teachers ideas about diversity in the classroom


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