Shops and businesses in the north east are being urged to sign up to the National Autistic Society’s first UK wide ‘Autism Hour’ which is being launched at intu Eldon Square and intu Metrocentre in the autumn.
intu Eldon Square and intu Metrocentre are 2 of 14 intu shopping centres up and down the country working with the charity to launch the week-long event, with each of their retailers, restaurants and leisure operators being asked to reduce their lights, music and other background noise for an hour at 10am on Monday 2 October.
Shops and services in the north east and across the UK will be encouraged to follow intu’s lead by taking 60 minutes during the week to provide autistic people with a break from the usual overload of ‘too much information’ and create better environments for autistic customers.
Staff at intu shopping centres already receive training to provide autism-aware customer service and both intu Eldon Square and intu Metrocentre have specially-designed alert cards and wristbands to heighten awareness of autism.
Autism-friendly shopping centre guides, developed in local partnership with The Percy Hedley Foundation, are available to pick up from customer service desks and can be downloaded from intu.co.uk/eldonsquare and intu.co.uk/metrocentre. The guides help shoppers to plan and prepare a visit by showing 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, last summer, shoppers in the north east were given the chance to try a virtual reality experience created by the National Autistic Society showing what an autistic person can experience in a shopping centre when it visited intu Eldon Square and intu Metrocentre as part of a national tour.
Karen Carr, regional marketing manager for intu north, said:
“We will be asking every shop, restaurant and leisure brand in our centres to dim their lights and reduce their music for an hour and to raise awareness of autism among their staff and customers. We hope that launching the National Autistic Society’s Autism Hour at intu Eldon Square and intu Metrocentre will encourage many more businesses to take these simple steps that will make life easier for the estimated 700,000 autistic people in the UK and their families.
“We want to put a smile on the face of everyone who visits an intu centre and this means training our staff, supporting our customers and working with brands in the centre as well as organisations like the National Autistic Society to provide a welcoming and accessible experience for all.”
A survey by The National Autistic Society suggests that 64% of autistic people avoid going to the shops, and 28% have been asked to leave a public place for reasons associated with their autism. The charity is asking shops and services to take simple steps for one hour to help create a more autism friendly world – from dimming the lights and turning down music to sharing information about autism with employees.
More than 1 in 100 people are on the autism spectrum which means that someone sees, hears and feels the world in a different, often more intense way to other people. Autistic people often find social situations difficult and struggle to filter out the sounds, smells, sights and information they experience which means they feel overwhelmed by ‘too much information’ when out in public.
Mark Lever, Chief Executive at the National Autistic Society, said: “We are delighted to team up with shopping centre owner intu for the National Autistic Society’s Autism Hour. Like anyone, people on the autism spectrum and their families want the opportunity to go to the shops and access services. But many find the often busy, loud and unpredictable environment overwhelming. In fact, our recent survey revealed 64% of autistic people avoid going to the shops because of their autism.
“Our Too Much Information campaign is highlighting that the smallest changes can make the biggest difference for autistic people, that’s why, alongside intu, the National Autistic Society are asking shops and services to take simple steps for 60 minutes, from dimming the lights to turning down music.
“intu has pioneered autism-friendly shopping. We are honoured to continue our work with them, following the positive results we achieved when we launched our Too Much Information virtual reality experience at intu centres last year.
“We hope that more venues will be inspired to do their bit and make sure autistic people and their families have the same chance to enjoy shopping as everyone else.”
To find our more information about the National Autistic Society’s Autism Hour, please visit:www.autism.org.uk/autismhour