Disability access can be a box-ticking exercise for many organisations: a ramp here, without the consideration of an awkward step there, or any thought at all about how stressful or complicated it can be to complete everyday tasks if you live with a disability.
But Beyond Bank is now going one step further. Their new Canberra City branch, to be opened shortly, has been designed from the ground up in partnership with the disability sector. And they’ve reached beyond physical access to create a space where people with cognitive issues from dementia to Down Syndrome will also feel at ease.
Beyond Bank has lived up to its name with a branch fit-out that will welcome people living with Down Syndrome, dementia, autism and multiple sclerosis. Genevieve Jacobs went to the final design consultation at the bank's Mawson headquarters and heard about how they've engaged those communities from the start.
Posted by The RiotACT on Tuesday, July 2, 2019
This means consideration of everything from the texture of the surfaces to the design on the carpet and the upholstery fabrics. It means looking at whether the lights can be dimmed or a room can be screened to create a sense of security.
And the design is grounded in Beyond Bank’s belief that investing in the whole community is good business and good for the community.
A recent event at their Mawson administrative centre brought together some of the people who have provided input from the beginning. The event gave them the chance to look at final plans and a mock-up of the spacing, and to give feedback about how to make banking as comfortable and easy as possible.
Designer Leah Markey from SMA Design says that the fit-out was always a two-way consultation. “We had discussions and ideas at every stage of this process,” she says. “The whole tenancy has been designed around making sure that everything is looked at down to the last detail. It’s been a huge deal.”
Dr Wendy Elford, who was present at the event has particularly relevant qualifications: originally a health professional, she has a PhD in environmental design and works as an organisational design consultant and academic. She also lives on the autism spectrum and regularly collaborates with the Marymead Autism Centre.
For her, the Beyond Bank commitment to inclusive design is a sign that everyone is welcome as a customer or an employee. “That degree of interest placed in what people need is a feature in itself,” she says.
It’s a response echoed by Adrienne Gault and Carl Emmerson from Getaboutable, a social enterprise that focuses on access through travel, leisure and inclusive business opportunities around the world.
Adrienne says that about 20 per cent of the population has mobility, vision, hearing and other assistance needs, so Beyond Bank’s work has a considerable community reach. She thinks that a business’s attitude matters as much or even more than the infrastructure.
The impact of bad design can be huge: Carl describes being at primary school where vinyl flooring on wood created unbearable sensory experiences for a person on the autism spectrum.
“With the sound of footsteps walking and running constantly going into my ears, it was not a fun experience. What the floor is made of, how bright the lights are, or can be made to be, is important.”
Carl says that flexibility is the key: “Not everyone with a cognitive issue will need help at all times, but the ability to make adjustments and to know that banking staff are aware that might be necessary is wonderful.”
Katie Senior from ACT Down Syndrome Association also finds the banking experience “pretty hectic”, and Gemma Francescangeli makes the point that banks are used by everyone and therefore should encompass everyone’s different abilities and needs.
The positive response from various disability communities is a sign for Beyond Bank that they’re getting it right. Dan Vittorio manages Beyond Bank’s national property and facilities portfolio and says the wide-ranging collaboration has included people with Alzheimers and dementia, multiple sclerosis and other physical issues, Down Syndrome and those on the autism spectrum.
As the first bank in Australia to become B Corp certified, there’s a strong motivation to use business as a force for good, Dan says.
“The bank’s key areas of support already encompass social inclusion, increasing independence, personal confidence and self-esteem, life skills and communication and wellbeing initiatives.
Doing good and returning value to the community and our customers is at the heart of what we do.”
The new Beyond Bank branch, located on City Walk in Civic, will open its doors in late August.
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