At first glance, Vincent Li Pok looks like your average 33-year-old Hongkonger, sporting a neat undercut, blue shirt and khakis. But as he introduces the history of Sunbeam Theatre in North Point to participants on a Touch Journey community tour, he speaks and walks a little slower than most.
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Li was born with cerebral palsy, a neurological condition which affects muscle movements. Growing up, he was concerned that his disability would prevent him finding a job. But through working at social enterprises, Li has come to embrace his condition and play up his strengths.
“I type slowly, so I avoid looking for administrative jobs. I let employers know what I’m good at, such as running projects,” he says.
Hoping others like him will learn to do the same, Li founded Touch Journey last September.
In addition to introducing participants to the characteristics, history and recent developments of districts across Hong Kong, Touch Journey also shines a spotlight on the tour guide.
“We hope to serve as a platform for people with disabilities to identify what they’re good at,” Li says. “We want to show participants what people with disabilities can do.”
With the help of team members Ranger Ho Kam-shing and Daniel Chong Kwai-nam, both 27, Li has taken some 130 people on two-hour tours of districts including North Point and Sham Shui Po.
“I joined Touch Journey because I wanted a meaningful job that could also accommodate my strengths and weaknesses: I can think on my feet, but I take forever to process paperwork,” says Ho, who taught briefly at a tutoring centre after graduating from university.
He now helps with project planning, pitching to clients and guiding tours, which can be challenging at times – Ho also has cerebral palsy, and uses a walking stick.
Chong works as a content strategist at a marketing agency, and recently joined Touch Journey as a part-time guide who also oversees product development and marketing. He hopes to find the right career path through working in relatively unconventional fields, such as guiding tours.
“It’s hard to find work as someone with disabilities, but I don’t want to settle for jobs in customer service or administration, which is what many of my friends who are like me end up doing,” he says.
Chong lost the ability to walk six years ago after injuring his spinal cord. He now uses a wheelchair to get around, and sees his role at Touch Journey as an opportunity to get creative: “I enjoy the challenge of designing routes that suit the needs of both the participants and the guide.”
Ho says attitudes towards people with disabilities have improved over the years, but he still believes it is important to shed light on the day-to-day tasks able-bodied people take for granted. He finds walking up steep slopes and stairs difficult, a factor he has to consider when planning tours.
“For example, uneven roads make a huge difference to people like me. I explain to our participants how this can affect our daily lives.”
Ho says he is surprised by how it is always older Hongkongers who give him their seats, not the young. Through education, he hopes to help the public understand people like him better, and to raise awareness of their needs. He gives the example of the Netherlands.
“The moment I got to an airport in the Netherlands, my feet never touched the ground because without hesitation, the staff took me everywhere in an electric vehicle,” he says.
While Chong agrees that accessibility in Hong Kong could be improved, such as by fixing the gaps and uneven surfaces on roads in Fortress Hill and Quarry Bay, he believes most Hongkongers would be willing to give people like him a hand.
On what more needs to be done, he says: “Programmes like Touch Journey encourage people like us to interact with the rest of society, which can help us improve our mental and psychological state.
“We’re not a burden to society – we’re a part of it.”