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Improving accessibility in the workplace

A drive to create a better public service for New Zealanders means we are making our services accessible to all.

Making Aotearoa accessible - Ministry of Social Development (MSD) Te Manatū Whakahiato Ora

Recent presentations from MSD and Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) He Kaupare. He Manaaki. He Whakaora, illustrated how an accessible workplace environment gives staff and customers greater satisfaction.

The speakers focussed on why accessibility is important; the challenges faced by disabled people accessing the workplaces; how agencies can use ongoing consultation to achieve accessibility outcomes; and, provided useful tips.

Why accessibility is important to agencies

“We are disabled not by our impairment but by the environment in which we live.

If you remove those disabling barriers, then you create the same opportunities for everyone else.”

Anne Hawker  Principal Disability Advisor, Ministry of Social Development Te Manatū Whakahiato Ora

The New Zealand Disability Strategy lists accessibility as one of the eight contributing outcomes towards achieving the vision of a non-disabling society in New Zealand.

New Zealand Disability Strategy - Office for Disability Issues Te Tari Mō Ngā Take Hauātanga

The Accessibility Charter - Ministry of Social Development (MSD) Te Manatū Whakahiato Ora

Improving accessibility requires organisational policy change, which should include accessibility, awareness and reasonable accommodations. Implementing a feedback loop involving different parts of the organisation, including those who have experienced or are disabled themselves, will contribute to generating change.

MSD’s Lead programme of work supports organisations to create an inclusive and welcoming environment for disabled people.

Lead programme of work - Ministry of Social Development (MSD) Te Manatū Whakahiato Ora

Workplace challenges faced by disabled people

Disabled people face many accessibility challenges in the workplace and MSD found retrofitting their existing buildings difficult. To resolve these difficulties a universal approach was needed.

"We are very conscious of accessibility and universal design - universal design being that which can be accessed and understood and used by everybody regardless of their age, size, ability or disability"

Vaughan Crouch  General Manager Property and Facilities, Ministry of Social Development (MSD), Te Manatū Whakahiato Ora

When concept designing their main national office, MSD’s architects and project team met with staff and disability networks early on to understand the accessibility challenges and to test products.

The retrofit of MSD’s main national office went beyond minimum building code standards to meet the differing needs. The beyond minimum changes included:

  • non-gender specific toilets,
  • timing of speed gate closure at security entry,
  • destination control lifts with audible announcement,
  • kitchen design including more drawers, sinks and tap positioning,
  • easy to navigate circulation areas,
  • a hearing loop in the auditorium,
  • a variety of furniture solutions.

Consultative processes are key to finding successful solutions

"The true game changer in this space, from my perspective, is the criticality of that genuine consultation and continued engagement"

Vaughan Crouch  General Manager Property and Facilities, Ministry of Social Development (MSD), Te Manatū Whakahiato Ora

"We employ 3,600 people and of those there are about 13.5 per cent who identify with living with a disability. It is really important that we have the representation from disabled peoples' perspective"

Ben Lucas  Lead advisor - Disability, Accident Compensation Corporation He Kaupare. He Manaaki. He Whakaora

Using a feedback loop, ACC’s property team identified quick and easy accessibility wins and incorporated these into new build designs, such as lowering paper towels, soap dispensers and coat racks, before starting on wider issues.

Hot tips for improved accessible design

Building design philosophy is about removing barriers in the workplace – not just meeting the code, but achieving best practice. Practical solutions for improving accessibility include:

  • open-plan design with minimal doors so people can easily navigate around,
  • floor design eg designing floors in exactly the same layout so that visually impaired people don’t have to learn how to navigate each floor of the building,
  • doors size (910 mm wide) to accommodate changes in wheelchair size,
  • circulation paths (1.5 m wide) to allow someone with a guide dog or chair to easily pass someone coming the other way,
  • use of carpet strips and tactile markers, including outside,
  • reasonable accommodation ie modifying the work environment to enable disabled people to perform their jobs,
  • signage, including welcome signs,
  • quiet spaces with minimal sensory overloads,
  • accessible car parking in close proximity

Reasonable accommodation - Ministry of Social Development Te Manatū Whakahiato Ora

We Enable Us network

The Government Property Group (GPG) are working alongside the We Enable Us working group to improve accessibility elements within the Government Property Group workplace design guidelines.

We Enable Us  - Ministry of Social Development (MSD) Te Manatū Whakahiato Ora

Government Property Group holds regular knowledge hours to bring public sector property specialists together, to collaborate and build a shared knowledge and understanding as we work together to deliver government expectations for office accommodation.

Property knowledge hour sessions are displayed in the key dates section on the New Zealand Government Procurement and Property website.