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02 June 2016

Welcoming Spaces: Working with Barrier Free NZ Trust

Just imagine - it’s been a hard journey. Take off was delayed, you have missed 3 calls from your boss and you can’t find your laptop charger. And you’re coming to a place you’ve never seen before. Difficult and stressful enough for most of us, but a whole lot harder if you have some an impairment or disability.

However, the NZICC is already a convention centre with a difference – before a single brick is even laid. It’s been designed with people in mind from the very start – regardless of ability level, with an essence of true New Zealandness, of Manaakitanga.

"The first thing that the NZICC did right was to set out to identify, and then design their building around the needs of the people who may be working within, or visiting it” according to Jason Strawbridge of the Barrier Free NZ Trust, who gives independent technical advice on helping to make the built environment usable and accessible for all. Jason says his organisation was involved in the NZICC design from early on in the project. “Rather than just being a checking mechanism at the end of the design, we’ve almost been part of the design team."

"Part of our engagement is just being there giving advice when the design team has questions, much of this has been around ‘best practice’ design e.g. going beyond minimum building code requirements and thinking more towards universal design principles."

A good example of that engagement focused on the revolving doors planned for the main Hobson Street entrance to the NZICC. Jason Strawbridge says: “As you can imagine, a door that’s constantly moving can be quite difficult for many users.” Barrier Free was able to test out new revolving door technology with the help of a team of people with various impairments.

Jason says the new technology didn’t detect guide dogs particularly well because there appeared to be a risk of their legs getting caught as the panels moved around. Learning this the NZICC will ensure the design and safety features are addressed early on and be sure that the centre will be safe for all users.

“It was a good example of engagement, seeing how the revolving door would affect users in real life if it was fitted into the convention centre.” says Jason. And he’s full of praise for the NZICC team after they incorporated the majority of Barrier Free Trust’s suggested tweaks.

"This would be one of the most successful projects we’ve been involved with. Sometimes the best thing in a building is just getting the basics right and the NZICC design has so far got the basics nailed. And it’s going above and beyond in a lot of cases as well."

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