Accessible Zalando

When I joined Zalando last year, Henning[1] (my manager) told me there is one problem: the only accessible bathroom was on the ground floor.

The sad truth is this is the German accessibility standard for public buildings. At least a single wheelchair accessible bathroom and it has to be on the ground floor. This is the case in government buildings, museums, and our Rocket Internet office.

It was fine until other problems arose. The floor doors were heavy, making them impossible for me to open. The bathroom was outside of the security area, requiring someone from the security personnel to open the doors for me every time I wanted to use the bathroom. And the situation in other buildings wasn’t that different.

Henning asked me to write a document describing the problems with different offices. I was skeptical but wrote it on a “won’t lose anything” basis. It was one page. The core argument was that someone who is generally slower shouldn’t be required to take the longest time to reach essential facilities like the bathroom.

Somehow the one pager escalated inside the company and I found corporate real estate contacting me saying they got a mandate to solve those problems. After many discussions they changed one of the doors in the Rocket building to an automatic one, and initiated a big project to retrofit and adapt current buildings to be accessible.

This Monday we moved into a new office in the Zalando campus. The building wasn’t designed with accessibility in mind before my one pager. It got retrofitted to have automatic doors on each floor, and a wheelchair accessible bathroom on every second floor.

I do believe in the good of humanity but I believe more in desires and incentives. There is no financial benefit to make workplaces wheelchair accessible. It costs a lot of money, and the return on investment is not justifiable[2].

I am still puzzled by what the company did. They didn’t have to, but they did it because they believed it was the right thing. It makes me grateful for being in this place with those people, and for making a change for the good of all.

When there is a will, there is a way.