Supermarket giant Coles have joined forces with Autism Spectrum Australia to launch a ground-breaking sensory-friendly pilot program in selected Coles supermarkets and it’s changed at least one family’s approach to shopping.
Quiet Hour rolled out in two Melbourne stores this week and mum Emily Dive was quick to sing its praises on the Coles’ Facebook page. Emily is a mum to 9-year-old Lachlan who has autism, and she said the adjustments Coles made to their stores has made a huge difference to her son – and to her.
At the moment, Quiet Hour is on Tuesday from 10.30am until 11.30am (until the end of October) at Coles at Ringwood and Balwyn East stores in Victoria. It’s down with the music, down with the register volume and down with lights too. In fact, during Quiet Hour, Coles will make lots of adjustments for the comfort of customers:
- Reduce Coles Radio to lowest volume
- Dim the lights by 50%
- Turn down register and scanner volumes to lowest level
- Remove roll cages from shop floor
- Avoid trolley collections
- Avoid PA announcements *excluding emergencies
- Offer free fruit at customer service
- Have trained team members available to assist customers
“We filled a trolley!”
These sensitive shifts have already made a big difference to Emily and Lachlan.
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“Today I walked out of our local Coles (New St, Ringwood) with my son, and a trolley full of groceries. We spent 40 mins in the store, casually walking up and down each aisle selecting the items that we needed. The entire time we were in there, I was fighting back the tears,” Emily wrote. For once the tears were borne out of relief and gratitude, rather than exhaustion and overwhelm.
“Today was a milestone for us. We filled a trolley!!! No mad dash to get in and out as quickly as possible only grabbing a handful of items. Lachlan was provided with such a positive experience in an environment that is challenging. Crawling under shelves, running out of the store, screaming, running, and yelling are our “norm” when we visits the supermarket. Behaviours that are his way of communicating “I can’t cope”. Today, these were obsolete.”
No-judgement shopping space
Autism Spectrum Australia Community Engagement and Operations Linzi Coyle told the Daily Mail that staff working during Quiet Hour had undertaken autism awareness training and were there to help.
Linzi hopes that Quiet Hour will provide a non-judgemental environment for families to shop in.
“Although we have modified some of the physical and sensory stimulators in store, we also hope to achieve a ‘no-judgement’ shopping space for people and families on the spectrum, where customers will feel comfortable and welcome,” she said.
The more subdued environment Coles has created meant Emily’s son Lachlan could shop comfortably with his mum, and they both felt more welcome and accepted.
“Today we walked side by side for the entire shopping trip, and the hardest challenge he faced was to make a decision about choosing Grain Waives or Tiny eddies. Kudos to you Coles for your quiet hour today, and acknowledging your environment for people entering your store can be a sensory land-mine for many to navigate.”
Emily said she felt heartened by Coles’ proactive approach to inclusivity.
“We are so lucky to have our local store as a pilot for such a great initiative. Please know that your acknowledgment of those who require the simplest of changes to environments to assist in making them more comfortable, is respected and appreciated. Thank you!”
A game-changing work in progress
Coles accessibility sponsor Peter Sheean told news.com.au the feedback for Quiet Hour had been overwhelmingly positive and the supermarket giant were considering next steps.
“Our store teams at Ringwood and Balwyn East are enthusiastic about the trial and customers have provided wonderful feedback to them, and have also taken to social media to let us know what they think,” Peter said.
“It’s fantastic to hear that the small changes we made in store to help reduce noise and distractions have helped to make a difference to the shopping experience for our customers who find it challenging to shop in a heightened sensory environment. We will be looking at the results and feedback to determine the next steps.”
If you live in Melbourne, remember:
Quiet Hour is 10.30am until 11.30am every Tuesday until the end of October – but only at Coles at Ringwood and Balwyn East stores.
Excellent effort, Coles!
Are there stores in your area that are taking steps to be more inclusive? We’d love to hear about them! Let us know via our Facebook page.