Yok Nom may be the fastest female wheelchair racer in all of Cambodia, but sitting at the entrance to Battambang province’s ANZ Royal bank branch in early May, she was brought to a complete halt.
With no disabled-access ramp, 36-year-old Yok Nom—who won the ANZ Royal-sponsored Cambodia National Volleyball League (Disabled) 100-meter Wheelie Grand Prix with a time of 21.85 seconds May 26—and three of her fellow wheelchair-bound racers were unable to get inside the bank on their own.
Entering the bank was something they were excited to do, given that CNVLD had just opened them their first-ever bank accounts.
“Of course it was quite difficult to get into the bank because I am not an ordinary person,” Yok Nom said by telephone last week. “When I first approached the bank, I was nervous. How could I get in? I was so embarrassed.”
Luckily, she said, her embarrassment did not last long. Several bank staff members came to her aid within a few moments. It took two people to lift the frame of her wheelchair and hoist it up over two steps, while another held open the door.
“They were all very helpful…. I was very appreciative,” she said. “But I would prefer the bank to build a ramp…. It would make us feel confident and self-sufficient.” It is a feeling Yok Nom said she has sought since she broke her back falling out of a tamarind tree in 1994, paralyzing her lower body.
ANZ Royal CEO Stephen Higgins said by telephone Tuesday that he regretted the racers’ embarrassment, and said ANZ Royal plans to construct a ramp up to their Battambang establishment in the near future.
“As an interim step, the staff has been instructed to assist clients with disabilities,” he said, adding: “It is an issue that impacts most of our branches…. It’s something we need to put a lot more thought into.”
ANZ Royal believes in social responsibility, Higgins said, adding that while the bank does not currently have a disabled-access policy, it has begun discussing one since the Battambang racers called attention to the issue.
ANZ Royal, a partnership between ANZ bank and Cambodia’s Royal Group, donated $35,000 to CNVLD last year and is CNVLD’s largest corporate sponsor.
CNVLD Secretary-General Chris Minko congratulated ANZ on its social responsibility and added that he wished more enterprises would follow suit.
He said the bank accounts for the disabled racers were opened in May as a way to provide better transparency to CNVLD’s administration and “also introduce CNVLD athletes to modern-day banking and personal financial management.”
CNVLD racers receive $168 per year to participate in CNVLD training and competitions. As the Wheelie Grand Prix winner, Yok Nom had won $80.
Ngin Saorath, executive director of the Cambodian Disabled People’s Organization, said 90 to 95 percent of establishments in Cambodia have no access for people with disabilities, who make up an estimated 10 percent of the total population. He urged the National Assembly to pass a draft disability rights law approved by the Council of Ministers in February that requires public and private enterprises to become disabled-accessible within five years or risk being fined.