The process started in 2014, when Ellingford was asked to be a member of Be.Acessible’s influencers.
Ellingford’s decade-long focus on environmentally friendly retailing had given him an appetite for creating services which went above and beyond standard requirements, but accessibility hadn’t been on his radar before then.
“To be perfectly honest, I really hadn’t thought too much about it.”
When Be.Accessible assessed Bayfair, it found the centre was already fairly accessible. It gave it a “silver” award indicating good levels of accessibility in a number of areas. Ellingford says most shopping centres are reasonably accessible prior to reform as they are about getting people in and out of the centre easily and efficiently.
After the assessment, Ellingford asked Be.Accessible for a document showing gap analysis. The organisation came back to him with a lot of recommendations, he says. Suggested changes covered everything from the portrayal of disabled people in Bayfair’s marketing material to adding braille to staff business cards.
Implementing these changes throughout Bayfair was challenging, Ellingford says, but the results have been worth it. The centre has this year become the first New Zealand business to achieve a platinum accessibility award. Be.sAccessible says any business with a platinum rating is “a model of first class accessibility in almost all areas of its business.”
Among other accessibility measures at Bayfair, all customer service staff have been trained in sign language; a video for deaf and hearing-impaired visitors has been made in collaboration with Deaf Aotearoa; audible messaging has been installed in the lifts, and signs in the car parks direct shoppers towards accessible parks.
Bayfair has also attracted a lot of positive attention for its most unusual change – New Zealand’s first shopping-centre based parking space for dogs. Many people with high access needs have companion dogs, and the centre had noticed that some shoppers tied their dogs to benches and posts, or left them in their cars. This can be dangerous, and prompted many calls from concerned locals.
“Some have asked about dog theft, which does occasionally happen in New Zealand,” Ellingford says. “We do have good security systems at the centre but we know this parking system may not be suitable for all dogs or their owners, and we encourage people to do what works best for them and their much-loved dogs. The purpose of the dog parking facility is to provide a better, more comfortable option for our four-legged friends who would otherwise be tied to posts, signs and benches around the centre. And if we manage to keep dogs out of cars on hot summer days, we will be very happy.”
Ellingford says the ‘dog parking unit’ was inspired by a dog creche in Beverly Hills. It is located close to the car park and lets the dogs access shade and water while they wait. The concept has been very popular with shoppers – an image of the unit posted on Facebook was shared 3,000 times and was viewed by over 41,000 people.
The platinum accessibility rating is a point of pride, says Ellingford: ““Tauranga, and New Zealand, are as diverse as they have ever been, and part of the challenge of adapting to that diversity is being 100% accessible. We want to do more to reach that mark, and we are happy to have set this standard and shown that we will continue to be progressive and ambitious on behalf of our community and region. Go the Bay!”