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Simon Collins

Simon Collins is the Herald’s social issues reporter.

Poor bank access stuns wheelchair user

ANZ asks public for suggestions after disabled customer criticises design of new branch in Queen St, Auckland.

Juliana Carvalho can't get into the new ANZ Bank branch, which lacks wheelchair access. Photo / Dean Purcell
Juliana Carvalho can't get into the new ANZ Bank branch, which lacks wheelchair access. Photo / Dean Purcell

Wheelchair users who can't get into a new bank branch in downtown Auckland say its inaccessible design makes New Zealand look like a "Third World" country.

Juliana Carvalho, a Brazilian migrant who works for the Health and Disability Commission in the same building as the new ANZ bank on the corner of Queen and Customs Sts, was shocked when she went into the bank last week with a colleague who has epilepsy. The only way in was up three steps from street level.

"I decided to move to New Zealand because I believed that here my rights as a person with disability would be respected," said Ms Carvalho, 32, who has used a wheelchair since she was 19. "But, as I can see, there's still a long way to go."

CCS Disability Action worker Vivian Naylor, another wheelchair user who was consulted on other aspects of the building's renovation, said she was "gobsmacked" when Ms Carvalho told her about the steps.

"For them to put this in Queen St, right there by the cruise ship terminal where tourists come ashore looking for a bank and this is what they find, we look like a Third World country."

An ANZ spokesman said there was no room for a ramp so the bank put a service desk at street level for customers unable to get up the steps.

"The floor plan, elevation and structural elements made disability access a challenge for our architects.

"Installing a ramp alongside the current placement of the steps would result in a ramp that was too steep to be safe. To place a ramp deeper into the bank, creating a better gradient, would mean either very limited space for customers waiting for services or people on the stairs, which would also be unsafe.

"Our solution was to place a full-service personal banker's desk at the base of the stairs where people who could not negotiate the stairs could gain access to the full range of bank services, on a priority basis.

"The arrangement was discussed in some detail with Auckland Council and complies with both Auckland Council and legislative requirements for accessibility.

"Ideally, we would be happier if people with disabilities were able to access the main part of the branch, and we're open to suggestions."

Auckland Council acting building control manager Doug Naylor confirmed that the street-level service desk was a condition of the consent.

"We understand signage indicating this was missing and has been rectified today."

The rules

The Building Code states: Buildings shall be provided with reasonable and adequate access to enable safe and easy movement of people.

- NZ Herald

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