Upper Hutt City Council
A local council is training its staff to make sure disabled customers get the service they deserve.
The Upper Hutt City Council has many departments that connect directly with the community, such as its library, traditional service desks, a swimming pool and an entertainment centre. To make sure everyone has a positive experience, it undertook staff training to ensure disabled people, in particular, are treated appropriately.
Council Community Development Advisor Frances McEwen says the idea resulted in DIScover, which is a complete resource kit including booklets and staff training workshops. "DIScover has also increased disability awareness among council staff and acceptance of staff within council who have a disability. Little training in this area had ever been provided in the past."
How does it work?
Frances explains that DIScover provides an opportunity to increase disability awareness and teach ways to provide the best possible service to anyone with a disability. "This includes both physical access and attitudes and understanding. It also provided council with an opportunity to promote the importance of disability awareness in-house." Funding came from the Ministry of Social development in two grants totaling about $13,000. Frances says the project consisted of three activities:
Frances says the DIScover resource has now been embedded in council processes and culture by ensuring all new staff are given disability awareness training as part of their induction. "Continuous training is provided to all existing staff, not just customer service staff, and that includes managers at all levels." She adds that it's also hoped the project will enhance the council's image of an attractive place for disabled people to seek employment.
Local businesses have also been getting involved and, over the next year, will be invited to free training courses and given access to the resource. There has been national interest in the project with 30 businesses requesting DIScover, including Work and Income, Hamilton City Council and Mitre 10.
"We hope the training gives all our staff and other businesses the confidence to serve disabled customers with the respect they deserve." Frances says DIScover was developed after research with staff and disabled people. "Employees knew that its content was developed and endorsed by disabled people, so that gave them a sense of trust around knowing they were being correctly informed." Workshops were facilitated by Pam MacNeill, an equity consultant who has sight impairment. Frances says they provided plenty of opportunities for staff to review the accessibility of their own work environments, as well as their attitudes and behaviours.
Positive staff reaction
Frances says staff are now coming up with their own ideas about how to improve access for disabled customers. "The library has reconfigured its seating so it's more accessible for wheelchairs, and are looking at lowering one of the self-issue machines so it's more user friendly."
The council's HR manager, Diane du Toit says it's important staff do recognise the barriers that exist for people with impairments. "We need to provide our staff with the skills to assist others to overcome those barriers and in turn, add value to the service we provide. DIScover has not only been outwardly focused but is also addressing the need for a culture shift within council to accept and understand those on staff with disabilities."
Some of the responses from council customer service staff:
To read about other initiatives developed by entrants in the Diversity Award, click on the links below:
The following document outlines the policies, practices and programmes of entrants in the Work & Life and Diversity categories of the 2012 ANZ New Zealand & EEO Trust Work & Life Awards.