I have recently been involved as a coach for the social change organisation, Be Accessible, in assessing the Palms shopping centre in Shirley, Christchurch. This shopping centre had been assessed in the middle of 2015 and was rated at the time as being at ‘gold’ level – the second to highest level of accessibility.
When looking at accessibility, we’re not just talking about people who use wheelchairs, we’re also thinking about parents and caregivers with children in buggies and prams, older people who using walking sticks or frames, people who have poor vision or hearing, people who can’t understand English that well, people who want to be able to find something easily on a website – anyone in this group are known as the ‘access customer’ and that’s 1 in 4 of us, at some time in our lives. As this is a significant number of the population, it’s really important that businesses sit up and think about their accessibility strategies so that they are not losing out on potential customers. Increasing accessibility for all also increases the opportunity for social engagement and has benefits for health and happiness in our community.
The Palms was determined to reach the top level of accessibility, so made a huge effort to action the recommendations given after their first Be Accessible assessment. So, in May of this year, when they were reassessed, they achieved Platinum level. They are the first business in the South Island to achieve this level. This is a great achievement on their part, with hard work from all their team, and included staff taking part in training to increase their awareness of the needs of the access customer and how to help and relate to them more successfully. One of the staff commented after the assessment that it had been a real eye opener to see how much easier it was for people to get around when a few simple things were implemented such as clearer signs, larger spaces for wheelchairs to get into, seating at a better height for getting in and out of.
Online shopping magazine Tactics had this to say “When you get a chance, visit The Palms and find out for yourself how easy it is to get around and what a pleasant shopping experience this is, as a result of this easy access to all the facilities, things we often take for granted.” And they’re right. Next time you’re there, take a look and see what you think.