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Shopping can be hellish for the disabled, and stores that go the extra mile to make the experience more tolerable create much goodwill among the general population.

Most people have experience of at least one family member or friend that suffers from both visible and invisible disabilities. Now an increasing number of retailers are rising to the challenge of focusing on those with specific needs.

One initiative, Slow Shopping, also the name of a not-for-profit company, was inspired by founder Katherine Vero’s experience of shopping with her late mother, who was diagnosed with dementia in 2005.

Slow Shopping embraces those who suffer from anxiety or mental illness, who struggle with communication or literacy, the elderly, those with dementia and all those who suffer from visible, invisible or intellectual disabilities.

A shop’s size and layout in itself can pose specific challenges. Big superstores can feel overwhelming and frightening for those on the autistic spectrum. Small stores can be hellish for wheelchair users.

Vero says: “Shopping is a fundamental part of ordinary life and it is for some people the only experience of the outside world that they have during a week. It is important that this experience is a good one.”

She stresses the importance of getting training and accreditation so staff understand the specific issues their customers have.

Many of the multiple supermarkets have offered Slow Shopping or variations of the theme, such as Morrisons with its “Quieter Hour” initiative created with the support of the National Autistic Society (NAS), during which lights are dimmed, music and radio turned off, staff refrain from loudspeaker announcements, movement of trolleys and baskets are reduced, and the checkout beeps and other electrical noises are turned down.

Tom Purser, head of campaigns at the NAS, says: “Around 700,000 people are on the autism spectrum in the UK. This means they see, hear and feel the world differently to other people, often in a more intense way, which can make shopping a real struggle.”

The society is scheduled to hold a mass-participation event on October 6-13, with the aim of having thousands of shops and businesses involved with the aim to show more stores how they can make simple changes and establish regular Autism Hours. Shops can sign up here.

Andrew Don.

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