Coles rolls out ‘quiet hour’ shopping for people on the autism spectrum

Grocery shopping can be a daunting experience for people who live with autism or who have family members on the spectrum.

The bright lights, constant music and noise from trolley collections can be a sensory overload, but Coles supermarkets will now offer a “quiet hour” for just such customers.

From 10.30am to 11.30am on Tuesdays, store lights in 18 supermarkets in Victoria and 68 nationally will be dimmed 50 per cent, the radio will be switched off and the volumes of registers and scanners will be reduced to a minimum.

Trolley collections will halt and roll cages will be removed from the shop floor, while announcements will be made only in emergencies. Additional staff will be rostered on to support customers.

The rollout comes after the supermarket chain, in partnership with Autism Spectrum Australia (Aspect), ran a successful trial in August of a “quiet hour” at two Victorian stores.

The Victorian supermarkets taking part range from inner city to regional areas.

Aspect’s community engagement and operations manager Linzi Coyle said a simple trip to the shops can be difficult for many individuals and families.

“Together with Coles, we’re achieving a ‘no-judgment’ shopping space where people on the spectrum and their families can feel comfortable and welcome whilst grocery shopping,” she said.

Coles’ accessibility sponsor Peter Sheean said the company wanted a good geographic spread of participating stores.

“We were really pleased to receive a positive response from our customers and team members, who welcomed quiet hour and provided feedback on social media,” he said.

Those affected by autism praised the initiatives. “This is absolutely amazing,” one person wrote on Aspect’s Facebook page.

“I know my son struggles going to the supermarket because of sensory overload so this would help make the stress of going to do the shopping alot [sic] less and more of a positive experience.”

Northland Shopping Centre in Preston has also implemented a similar experience with its Sensory Shopping Day beginning on November 19.

The shopping centre lights were dimmed, loud music turned off and crowds kept to a minimum, with ‘Sensitive Santa’ –  a Santa impersonator specially trained to work with children on the autism spectrum – available to customers.

The shopping centre has teamed with AMAZE and Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre to provide a shopping experience that will reduce the risk of a sensory overload.

AMAZE chief executive Fiona Sharkie said Northland was paving the way for greater understanding about how everyone could make simple changes to help make a more autism-friendly world.

“The everyday trip to the shops is something many of us don’t think twice about,” she said.

“However, for autistic people and their families it can be very stressful.

“The bright lights, noisy environment and bustling crowds can lead to sensory overload for autistic people, making these everyday experiences very difficult.

“Simple changes can make a huge difference for people with autism.”

Northland Shopping Centre will have Sensitive Santa every day from November 19 to 24; and from November 27 to December 1 from 8am to 9am.

The Coles stores in Victoria hosting quiet hour are: Altona Meadows, Balwyn East, Belmont, Benalla, Brighton, Brandon Park, Brunswick West, Burnside, Cranbourne West, Eltham, Essendon Fields, Ferntree Gully, Fitzroy, Langwarrin, Pakenham Lakeside, Prahran, Ringwood and Wendouree.

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