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Countdown stores becoming more accessible for all Kiwis

Countdown is taking steps to make the supermarket chain more accessible to people with different needs, opening the doors to the country’s first accredited ‘Be. Accessible’ supermarket in Hawera, and testing a new car park monitoring app to ensure mobility car parks are kept free for the people who need them most.

Reopening earlier this month after a significant refurbishment, Countdown’s Hawera store has a number of new features that make it more comfortable and accessible for people.

They include a visual alarm system for emergencies, and an EVAC chair for wheelchairs at the emergency exit, contrasting colours for doors and reduced natural light in the entry area to avoid glare for visually impaired customers, wider aisles for wheelchairs, mobility scooters and prams and team areas that have been designed for people with a range of mobility needs, to name just a few.

“Sometimes the smallest changes can make a huge difference, like light switches that aren’t too high to reach if you’re in a wheelchair or mobility scooter, or a fire alarm that flashes lights instead of just a siren so that hearing impaired customers know they need to exit,” Kiri Hannifin, Countdown’s general manager of corporate affairs, safety and sustainability, said in a statement at the time of the launch.  

“It’s really important to us that all New Zealanders feel welcome when they shop with us, and we’re proud to have worked alongside Be. Accessible to help guide us to make our Hawera store more user-friendly. We’ll now be taking these learnings to our future store designs.”

Countdown is also planning to offer Quiet Hours in its Hawera store future, which will support a low-sensory shopping experience, beneficial to people with Autism in particular.

The supermarket chain this month has also started trialling a new app at its Dunedin stores, which enables users to upload photos of cars parked in mobility car parks that don’t display a valid permit.

The Access Aware app, from CCS Disability Action, alerts the relevant store team, which enables them to relay a message over the store’s PA to ask the car owner to move their vehicle to another spot.

“Having mobility car parks as close to our store entrance as possible is incredibly important for any of our customers with mobility needs,” Hannifin said.

“While the vast majority of New Zealanders are respectful of ensuring mobility parks are available for customers with the right permits, introducing the Access Aware app is an opportunity to reiterate that these car parks are there for a purpose, to help someone get in and out of our stores more easily,” says Kiri Hannifin.

Countdown is trialling the app for three months in its four Dunedin stores – Dunedin Central, Dunedin South, Mailer Street and Andersons Bay – and will look at customer and team feedback, as well as the number of reports received, before it considers rolling out the technology across other stores.

Countdown is also making its mobility car parks across the country wider, and revamping them with new blue, non-slip paint to make it easier for the customers who need them to use them.

“Together with improving signage and road markings for mobility car parks across our network, we want to make it clear for any customer with mobility needs that these car parks are here for you,” Hannifin said.

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