Businesses have an opportunity to increase their customer base and create goodwill within their community, without having to spend a lot of money. They can do so by embracing the concept of 'accessibility'.
Challenges to access can include sensory, physical and intellectual impairment; impaired mobility as a result of accident, illness, age or pregnancy. By these measures, virtually every Kiwi will have an access need at some point in their life.
Auckland's Unitary Plan and the Christchurch rebuild present a once-in-a-lifetime chance to make businesses more accessible to the increasing number of Kiwis who are affected by disability.
Around 25 per cent of us have temporary or permanent disabilities that mean access to education, employment and the community can be difficult or limited. Accessibility is all about our ability to engage with, use, participate in, and belong to, the world around us.
Facilitating accessibility and being inclusive of all people is part of being a good corporate citizen.
However, doing so could deliver you more than just feel-good benefits. Improving access could potentially boost your bottom line by making your business more inclusive to customers with disabilities.
It could also contribute to 'pride of place', which, recent research by AMP Capital Shopping Centres showed, is an important factor in shopping decisions.
This is why you should make your business accessible to all.
Tauranga's Bayfair Shopping Centre and The Palms Shopping Centre in Christchurch have both received positive feedback from their shoppers about their progressive stance on accessibility.
Now is a good time to be talking about access, because New Zealand is in the midst of its biggest commercial property boom in many years. Not only is the Christchurch rebuild continuing at pace but Auckland has several large retail and office projects on the way, ranging from vast shopping malls to towering skyscrapers. Smaller cities such as Hamilton and Tauranga are also experiencing construction booms in the commercial sector.
Now is a good time to be talking about access, because New Zealand is in the midst of its biggest commercial property boom in many years.
Auckland's Unitary Plan, recently passed by the Auckland Council, highlights the scale of growth expected in our biggest city over the next 30 years, both up and out. Developers and business owners need to be proactive and future-proof these new buildings by making them user-friendly for all Kiwis.
A similar opportunity exists in Christchurch, which effectively has a blank slate due to the rebuild in the CBD. The best time to make a building accessible is when it is first constructed, because retrofitting can be a more difficult and expensive process.
However, this hasn't stopped Bayfair Shopping Centre or The Palms, which have both refitted their facilities to achieve the highest standard of platinum in Be. Accessible's Accessibility Assessment. So what does accessibility actually involve?
The efforts of Bayfair and The Palms show that it is about much more than wheelchair access.
Both centres have come up with innovative yet inexpensive solutions to improve access for people with a number of disabilities.
For example, Bayfair has established New Zealand's first and only dog parking facility, where visitors to the centre can safely leave their dogs with shade and water while they wait. This is great for dog lovers but especially useful for those who rely on companion dogs for support.
Vision and hearing impairment are disabilities that can make everyday tasks difficult and even dangerous. The Palms recognised this and added vertical visual contrasting strips to glass automated doors for better visibility. Other steps businesses can take include adding Braille to signs, creating videos with New Zealand sign language for the hearing impaired and offering free mobility scooters for shoppers with mobility issues.
An issue closely linked to accessibility is that of age.
With a growing number of businesses taking steps to improve accessibility, the biggest risk is doing nothing.
This issue is only going to get bigger due to New Zealand's rapidly aging population. The number of Kiwis aged 65 and over doubled between 1980 and 2013 and is projected to double again by 2040, putting pressure on our health and superannuation systems but also on businesses to adapt to an environment in which as many as one-third of their shoppers are elderly.
Botany Town Centre has taken a proactive approach to supporting elderly customers, partnering with MECOSS and the Salvation Army to provide a door-to-door shuttle service. This has proved to be hugely popular with the large number of over-65s in the area, providing the centre with valuable goodwill. For some centres, accessibility is now part of their identity.
Be. Accessible is helping to drive the change, including via its Fab 50 group of business and social leaders pushing for a 100 per cent accessible New Zealand. With a growing number of businesses taking steps to improve accessibility, the biggest risk is doing nothing.
• Jonathan Armstrong is Divisional Asset Manager- Retail at AMP Capital. He heads up the NZ retail shopping centre asset management for AMP which includes Bayfair Shopping Centre, Botany Town Centre and The Palms Shopping Centre.
• Steve Ellingford is Centre Manager for the Bayfair Shopping Centre and is a member of Be. Accessible's Fab 50, a group of prominent New Zealand businesspeople advocating for a 100% accessible New Zealand.