Thursday 4 October 2018

Autism Hour; autism-friendly shopping spaces

This Friday will see the launch of the National Autistic Society's new initiative, Autism Hour. Although it's called an hour, it's actually a whole week of activity, 6-13th October, planned with the hope that there will be a lasting impact over the coming months and years.

The idea is that high street retailers, big and small, will dedicate one hour to making some simple changes which could make the shopping experience a more pleasurable one for some autistic people. These changes might include turning music down, or off, being aware of and limiting any other loud noises in store, dimming lighting so it is not as bright, and sharing more information about autism with all employees to encourage better understanding.
shopping centre mall from above with child struggling away from parent

There are around 700,000 autistic people in the UK, as well as three million family members and carers. Being autistic means seeing, hearing and feeling the world in a different, often more intense way to other people. Many autistic people often find social situations difficult and may struggle to filter out the sounds, smells, sights and information they experience, which can make busy public places, like shops, overwhelming.

Over 8,000 stores have already committed to taking part in Autism Hour and they can be searched for on a map over at the National Autistic Society website. The sponsor for the event is The Entertainer, and other big name stores who are getting involved include Sainsbury's, Argos, Lloyds Bank, Halifax, Bank of Scotland, Co-op and Schuh. There's still time to sign up if you own a business; please visit this page for more information and to see how you can get involved.

The stores have chosen their own times to take part; our local Morrisons is doing 9-10am on Saturday whereas the local Sainsburys is doing 9-10am on Monday, 4-5pm Wednesday and 7-8pm on Friday. I do think offering a variety of times is great as not all autistic people want to be up and out shopping early at the weekend... but then the issue about advertising the different times arises. There is no way to please all people all of the time, but it does beg the question of whether it should become everyday practice to recognise that loud noise and bright lights are making life difficult for some and to alter the environment accordingly? Personally I don't think it would impact on my life negatively if I didn't hear music playing in shops any more. I'm sure there was research done years ago to prove that people paid more if they were feeling good because they were enjoying the music... but is that still true? Even if it is, what about all the money which autistic people aren't spending because the stores feel inaccessible to them?!

This film below, created by Don't Panic, attempts to demonstrate just how overwhelming these environments can be for those who are autistic or who have sensory issues. Please do watch and share, as the more people who see this, the more who can begin to understand why we need to change environments to make them more accessible for all.

What do you think? Should there be a regular 'Autism Hour' for shopping? Or Autism days? Or maybe someone will be really brave, flip the narrative and introduce 'Neurotypical Hour'?!

This is a collaborative post; I'm sharing information and adding my own thoughts.

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