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The virtual reality headset takes people inside the National Autistic Society’s viral film ‘Can you make it to the end?’ which follows an autistic boy experiencing sensory overload on a shopping trip.
 
This pioneering initiative is touring all 15 intu shopping centres around the UK, visiting intu Metrocentre on 10 & 11 August and intu Eldon Square on 13 & 14 August, as part of the partnership between intu and the National Autistic Society to increase understanding of autism among shoppers, and bring better support for autistic shoppers and their families. The aim is that all intu centres will achieve the charity’s Autism Friendly Award by 2017.
 
A range of supportive measures for autistic people will be introduced to all intu centres, including intu Metrocentre and intu Eldon Square, over the next two years. Autism-friendly shopping centre guides, developed in local partnership with The Percy Hedley Foundation, will be available to pick up from customer service desks from 1 September. The guide will inform shoppers on where the quiet and noisy areas are in centre, as well as the best times to visit the centre to avoid excess disturbance and crowds. In addition to frontline staff training, both centres will also have specially-designed alert cards and wristbands for autistic customers and their families to use to heighten awareness of autism.
 
intu Metrocentre and intu Eldon Square are also piloting a ‘Quiet Hour’ on 10 August to help ensure that shoppers who feel stressed and intimidated by noise and disturbance feel more welcome in centre. During this time there will be no tannoy announcements and retailers will turn off music and any flashing lights in store to make the shopping experience less overwhelming for people with autism.
 
Karen Carr, regional marketing manager, intu north, said:
 “It is a very humbling  experience working with the National Autistic Society and realising how difficult every day activities can be – we are delighted to be in a position to help raise awareness of autism among all our shoppers and our staff using this impactful virtual reality experience. This is part of work by intu to build social togetherness and make sure that our shopping centres are accessible and welcoming to all.”
 
It is the latest event in the National Autistic Society’s ‘Too Much Information’ public awareness campaign, launched in April to increase public understanding of autism. More than 1 in 100 people are on the autism spectrum and the charity found that half of people and their families sometimes don’t leave their homes because they are worried about negative and judgemental responses due to a lack of understanding of autism.
 
Alex Marshall, the 10-year-old autistic star of the campaign film, said:
It really helps when people understand how things feel for me, and this is a really cool way to do it – you can just show someone inside your head! When someone’s seen what it’s like, I think they’ll know why I get overwhelmed, and then they’ll understand that I’m not being naughty.”
 
Mark Lever, Chief Executive of the National Autistic Society, commented:
 “We launched our Too Much Information campaign because hundreds of thousands of autistic people are ending up isolated and lonely due to poor public understanding of autism.
 
To help the public understand a little more about autism, we’re really excited to be the first charity using virtual reality to demonstrate what this aspect of autism can feel, see and sound like. Virtual reality is such a fantastic medium and we want to use it to help people identify with a young autistic boy who is having a crisis in a shopping centre.”
 
The National Autistic Society’s ‘Too Much Information’ virtual reality experience will be touring intu centres on the following dates:
intu Metrocentre – 10th to 11th August, Town Square, outside House of Fraser.
intu Eldon Square – 13th to 14th August, outside John Lewis and Boots.    
 
The ‘Quiet Hour’ will take place on 10 August at the following times: 
intu Eldon Square: 9 am – 10 am
intu Metrocentre: 10 am – 11 am
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