Simon Lea, an Asda store manager in Manchester, has introduced a weekly 'quiet hour' to help make shopping less stressful for autistic customers – a first for any supermarket in the UK.
Speaking to people with autism has helped me to think about how I can make my store a better place to shop
Simon had the idea after he experienced first hand how daunting shopping in a large supermarket can be for people with autism. The Asda Living store in Cheetham Hill plans to put special measures in place to make the experience easier, including stopping escalators and turning off music, tannoy announcements and TV displays. Shoppers will also be provided with a map of the store's layout, which uses images rather than words to guide them round.
Simon told the Manchester Evening News that his experience in store with an autistic boy and his mother really opened his eyes to the difficulties those with autism face while shopping. The boy’s plight stuck with him, prompting him to speak to an employee with an autistic child to find out how to make the environment more friendly and accessible. The idea for 'quiet hour' was born. Recognising that people with autism are often sensitive to loud noises, Simon wants to make the store completely silent, so much so that shoppers will "be able to hear a pin drop".
"It’s all about helping people," Simon said. "Speaking to people with autism and disabled people had helped me to think about how I can make my store a better place to shop."
The response to 'quiet hour' has been overwhelmingly positive, with a number of leading autism charities in the UK backing the idea. As Tom Madders, head of campaigns at the National Autistic Society, told BuzzFeed News: “We hear time and time again from parents and autistic people that shops and other public spaces can be extremely challenging for them because bright lights, strong smells and crowds or queues can cause them to feel overwhelmed by ‘too much information’. This can be excruciatingly painful or cause extreme anxiety. This may lead to a meltdown or – all too often – people avoid these places and choose not to go out at all... Asda’s initiative is a great example of an organisation taking the trouble to understand how autistic people experience the world, and we hope other retailers are inspired to follow their example."
The first 'quiet hour' is scheduled for 7th May and Asda will be monitoring feedback from the trial to see if this can be rolled out to more stores in the future.
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